Former Bush administration aide Elise Stefanik will announce her bid to challenge Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y., on Tuesday, kicking off her quest for one of the GOP’s most elusive House seats in the Empire State.
Stefanik, who ran debate preparations for Rep. Paul D. Ryan during the 2012 campaign, recently returned to upstate New York to work on her family’s plywood business. She introduced her candidacy via an online video shared with CQ Roll Call.
“Growing up in a small business family, I learned the values of hard work and humility,” Stefanik, 29, says in the spot. “I’ve seen firsthand how insiders in Washington have forgotten to fight for average small businesses like ours on Main Street. I want to change that. ”
On paper, the 21st District should be competitive. Last year, Owens won re-election by 2 points by defeating Matt Doheny. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama won the district with just 52 percent, and Republicans argue Owens will be more vulnerable without the robust Democratic turnout that comes with a presidential election in the Empire State.
But the district has proved problematic for the GOP in the past. In 2009, the party lost a bruising special election there when the conservative party’s candidate posed a serious challenge to the Republican nominee, Dede Scozzafava. Days before the special election, Scozzafava dropped out and endorsed Owens, who won the seat.
Stefanik’s candidacy comes as the GOP struggles to appeal to young, female voters across the country. The party has renewed its push to recruit female candidates for 2014 and beyond. Stefanik confirmed she met with the National Republican Congressional Committee in December.
“I hope to be part of the new generation of people stepping up to the plate,” she said in a phone interview last week. “I also think we need more women, in the Republican Party and in Congress in general.”
While working in the White House, Stefanik served in the domestic policy and chief of staff’s offices during President George W. Bush’s second term. Several of her former Bush colleagues are helping with her candidacy, including former White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joel Kaplan.
“Elise would have an immediate impact in the House for the people of New York’s 21st District,” Gillespie wrote in a statement emailed to CQ Roll Call. “Her deep roots in the district combined with her understanding of policy would make her an extremely effective voice in Congress. It’s also good for the country and the congress to have the perspective of a new generation represented.”
The expansive, mostly rural district includes four media markets. Stefanik estimated she will have to raise a minimum of $2 million for the race.
Stefanik has hired IMGE, a digital firm run by Phil Musser and Alex Skatell, for new media and strategy.