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Castelli wins 21st District Democratic primary, will challenge Stefanik in November

Matt Castelli, a former CIA officer and Director for Counterterrorism, is running as a Democrat to represent the 21st House District in Congress.
Emily Russell
Matt Castelli, a former CIA officer and Director for Counterterrorism, is running as a Democrat to represent the 21st House District in Congress.

Former CIA officer Matt Castelli has won the Democratic primary for New York's 21st House District. Castelli will face Republican Elise Stefanik for her seat in Congress in November.

Castelli kept a consistent lead over his Democratic opponent, Whitehall lawyer Matt Putorti, as unofficial election results trickled in on Tuesday night.

“It’s been pretty exciting," said Castelli from his election night party in Glens Falls. "I’m just grateful for all of the support that folks have placed in this campaign, the trust and confidence that they’ve placed in it, not just from the voters but all of our volunteers.”

Matt Putorti issued a press release Tuesday night congratulating Castelli on his win."We are united in the mission to defeat Elise Stefanik. Matt Castelli has my support, and I ask that you give him yours too."

Rep. Stefanik's campaign issued a statement Tuesday night, saying they welcomed the challenge by Castelli: "We are confident that NY-21 voters (which Far-Left Downstate Democrat Matt Castelli became less than a month before launching his campaign) will soundly reject Castelli and re-elect Congresswoman Stefanik in another landslide victory this November," the press release read.

Castelli said on Tuesday night that he sees a path forward for his campaign, despite New York's 21st House District becoming even more Republican after redistricting earlier this year.

“The combination of my ability to build a coalition plus [Stefanik] changing and disappointing folks puts us in a strong position to actually do something really special here and deliver the win in November.”

Tuesday's primary election appears to have had a low turnout. In Saranac Lake, just seven people per hour were trickling into the town hall to vote Tuesday morning. One of those people was Paul Herrmann, a retired lawyer from Saranac Lake.

“I’ve voted every time I’ve gotten a chance and I just hope I get to keep voting," said Herrmann. "It’s the hallmark of a democracy.”

Herrmann cast his ballot on Tuesday for Matt Putorti. He said he liked that Putorti grew up in the district.

Beatrice Beguin also showed up early to vote on Tuesday. She cast her ballot for Matt Castelli, but didn’t seem super excited about her vote, so I asked her why that was.

“Well, you know, I’m not really feeling connected to a political party. I choose it because it makes it possible for me to vote in the primary.”

Beguin said her values don’t line up completely with Castelli’s but she thinks he’s got the best shot against Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik. Stefanik has won by an increasingly wide margin in recent years. She defeated Democrat Tedra Cobb in 2020 by nearly 18%.

Beguin said she hopes Castelli can do better than that. “I think in this climate someone with a law enforcement background is probably competitive.”

Castelli served in the CIA for years and worked as the Director for Counterterrorism under Obama and for a year under Trump. He’s campaigned more as a moderate, touting his support for the second amendment and not committing to an assault rifle ban. He’ll also be on the moderate party line in November.

It’s an attempt to appeal to more conservative voters. Dwight Stevenson, who teaches government and economics at Saranac Lake High School, says Democrat voters in the North Country shouldn’t be too picky.

“You’re not going to get everything that you want in a candidate, so being able to compromise and know what is that you’re willing to compromise on is a really important thing as a voter.”

Stevenson said he's met Castelli a couple of times and appreciates that Castelli has been campaigning across the district. He doesn’t see Stefanik engaging in that way.

“She’s not really listening to the voters around here," said Stevenson. "Matt Castelli is a fresh face and a fresh change and an opportunity to have someone listening to the people in the district, not looking to further their own political aspirations.”

Stefanik has the highest profile she’s ever had since she was first elected in 2014. She is now the third-ranking Republican in the House and has raised more than $7 million this election cycle, according to federal campaign finance data.

Castelli’s campaign has raised about $1.1 million. He’s never held public office and just recently moved to the North Country, so doesn’t have deep roots in the district.

Paul Herrmann, the retired lawyer from Saranac Lake, says it’s a long shot for any Democrat in this district. “It doesn’t look great at the moment, but between now and November is an eternity.”

Emily Russell covers the Adirondack State Park for NCPR.