The Sun Community News
December 10, 2018
By: PETE DEMOLA
WASHINGTON, D.C | Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) was a rare bright spot for Republicans in last month’s midterm elections.
Stefanik carved out a third term by 15 points as Democrats gained 40 seats in the House in their biggest pickup since the 1970s, including three from her colleagues in New York’s GOP delegation.
Republicans elected only one female freshman compared to 35 for Democrats. And the number of GOP women will drop to just 13 in the House in January, down from 23.
That’s not representative of the overall public, said Stefanik, and Republicans need to probe why in a post-mortem.
“We need to take time to learn the lessons from the past election cycle to prepare us for 2020,” Stefanik told The Sun in an interview. “I think there needs to be a deep dive similar to what the National Republican Committee embarked on in 2012.”
Stefanik’s team on Monday also began circulating a letter formally asking party leadership for the review, The Hill first reported.
The letter was co-signed by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), as well as Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), both of whom fell short in their election bids.
And it goes beyond probing the party’s problems with suburban women:
“The (National Republican Campaign Committee) strategic assessment should include every aspect of its operations and decision-making process, from data, fundraising, polling and staffing to messaging and voter targeting among key demographics,” read the letter.
NRCC should also examine decisions made by House Leadership during the 2018 cycle, “including the policy process, legislation and messaging to see what contributed to our losses this cycle and how we can adjust moving forward.”
A leading reason for the party’s devastating losses, said Stefanik, is because the NRCC didn’t pick sides in primaries unlike their Democrat counterparts.
As a result, Stefanik has stepped down from her role as recruitment chair for national Republicans in order to expand and bolster her political action committee to support female Republicans and “non-traditional” candidates.
Stefanik said she was pleased that she nearly tripled the number of female recruits last cycle, and now wants to focus “mentoring them through the political process” and getting them through the primaries.
The lawmaker’s ambitions have already drawn ire from the new chair of the NRCC, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.).
“If that’s what Elise wants to do, then that’s her call, her right,” Emmer told Roll Call, who first reported on Stefanik’s plans last week. “But I think that’s a mistake.”
The lawmaker pushed back on Twitter:
“But newsflash,” Stefanik wrote. “I wasn’t asking for permission.”
The exchange drew support from allies like House GOP Whip Steve Scalise.
“Thank you for leading on this @EliseStefanik,” he wrote on Twitter. “We need more talented women like you in Congress. I’m proud to support your efforts.”
NO PERFECT FORMULA
As her colleagues were felled nationwide last month — including every single GOP member in the conservative stronghold of Orange County, California — Stefanik won a sweeping victory over Democratic opponent Tedra Cobb by keeping a laser-focus on local issues paired with results crafted as part of what she calls the “governing wing” of the Republican Party, a sly rebuke of the conservative Freedom Caucus, with whom Stefanik has increasingly broken this year.
But she managed to carve out a sizable win while also touting traditional Republican orthodoxy, including a platform of a strengthened military and increased defense spending paired with lower taxes and reduced regulations.
Stefanik stopped short of saying candidates should use her model as a blueprint — every district is different, she said — but did cite her 2014 GOP primary challenge against Matt Doheny as an example of an underdog who received a much-needed boost from institutional allies.
“A lot of my early supporters took a great risk in supporting me,” said Stefanik.
That early support was critical in propelling her to victory, she said, as was the support of electeds who used their PACs to contribute to her primary contest.
She cited Rep. Ann Wagner, who represents a suburban Missouri district, and Rep. Diane Black, who lost a bid for Tennessee governor, as people to watch.
Both used their PACs to support her primary contest, joining Ryan and former House Speaker John Boehner, amongst other GOP lawmakers.
As House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) heads into retirement, Stefanik hopes women will play a larger role in molding GOP policy.
Stefanik noted Wagner’s focus on military family issues and emerging threats as key issues, as well as Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s (R-Wash.) work on maternal health.
“I’m hoping new voices will rise up and help shape our policy vision,” Stefanik said.
Many of the Republicans who lost represented suburban seats.
Stefanik appears to have an ally in Wagner, who won a suburban district that senator-elect Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) failed to capture.
Wagner told the New York Times she is “turning her attention to fashioning a suburban agenda for the party and ‘is not going to wait around’ for leadership to do the same.”
“If we don’t learn some lessons from this election we will not be a majority party,” Wagner said.
Four years after first taking office, Stefanik is heading into a Democratic-controlled House for the first time.
But she says it’s not the first time she’s worked in divided government.
Aside from border security, President Donald Trump has offered little in the way of a roadmap for legislative priorities at the midway point of his first term.
In the absence of a clear signal, Stefanik said she’d like to prioritize rural broadband development — “Any infrastructure bill needs to include rural broadband,” she said — and looks forward to voting for the final version of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement, a measure she said is critical to the North Country economy.
“Having an updated NAFTA is a huge priority for this district,” Stefanik said.
And as Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) is poised take the gavel of the House Armed Services Committee, Stefanik said she will actively push back against possible cuts in defense spending, citing the need to ensure military readiness.
She said she’ll also continue to chip away at health care solutions, as well as broaden her portfolio on combating invasive species, which poses a dire threat to the Adirondack Park.
And as the Climate Solutions Caucus reels from losing about half of its Republican members in November — including Curbelo, the Miami-area lawmaker — Stefanik said she hopes to continue to be an “active member” of that caucus.
“I hope to recruit new members to join the caucus,” Stefanik said. “I’m optimistic we will recruit new members.”