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Stefanik maintains bipartisan reputation while moving to the right

Published: Oct. 16, 2020 at 9:31 AM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-New York) holds a unique position in Congress and New York’s North Country. She ranks as one of the nation’s most-bipartisan lawmakers but data also show her moving to the right.

Those who track and grade lawmakers on a scale from left to right concede it’s an inexact science, but Noah Weinrich with Heritage Action said, “you can generally tell who’s conservative or not.”

Heritage Action -- a conservative lobby group affiliated with the Heritage Foundation -- scores lawmakers based on the bills they back and the votes they take. “If they consistently vote conservatively, they’ll have a high score,” said Weinrich, “generally, folks scores stay pretty similar from term to term.”

Weinrich said scores calculated over years and hundreds of votes help eliminate noise from the calculation but added voters should dig deeper into their numbers than the top-line score.

Right now, Rep. Stefanik is getting a 60% – a grade well above her previous scores (’15-'16, ’17-'18) but still well below the current Republican average.

Other organizations -- like non-partisan GovTrack -- use different formulas, but reach similar conclusions, painting Stefanik as a moderate trending toward the middle of the Republican party.

Prof. Sally Friedman studies how lawmakers balance local and national elements in their work in D.C. and on the campaign trail. She wrote about her case study of New York’s federal delegation in her 2007 book - Dilemmas of Representation: Local Politics, National Factors, and the Home Styles of Modern U.S. Congress Members.

“What’s so interesting is her combination of bipartisan and partisan,” said Friedman of Stefanik.

Friedman said national politics are playing a larger role in how lawmakers present themselves back home than in the past, but local issues remain critical to maintaining the support of their constituents.

Friedman said Stefanik remains focused on her North Country district, from fighting for soldiers at Fort Drum to securing funding for hospitals. But as Stefanik rose the ranks within Congress, Friedman notes Stefanik began sprinkling in more national talking points and took on roles steering her party’s future.

“The interesting thing to me is she didn’t jump on the Trump bandwagon in 2016, ’17,” said Friedman.

Four years ago, Stefanik offered only lukewarm support of then-candidate Donald Trump. He would go on to overwhelming carry her district, only losing one county, and flipping six counties that voted for President Obama in 2012.

Stefanik has broken with the president’s positions -- voting against 2017′s tax reform and calling for more coronavirus testing this spring. But she largely downplays their differences, and won his praise defending him from impeachment.

“I’ve been able to deliver results working with this president,” Stefanik told us in August before addressing the Republican National Convention. She said those results are the direct result of the President’s willingness to cut a deal, “the media has not done enough to focus on how bipartisan he has been.”

North Country voters will decide whether to send Stefanik back to Congress for a fourth term on Election Day, Nov. 3rd. She’s up against Democrat Tedra Cobb in a rematch of the 2018 race.

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