The Times Union - POLICY DRIVES NORTH COUNTRY CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGN
STILLWATER - Democrat Patrick Nelson is betting that voters in the 21st Congressional District will respond to his vision for the future, which he articulates with specific policy proposals and nuanced ideas on the campaign trail.
"We have taken an outward facing approach. It's about what we can do for the voter," Nelson said of his attempt to win a five-way Democratic primary on June 26. The winner faces a potential matchup in the fall with two-term incumbent Republican Elise Stefanik.
Whether it's "Medicare for All," student loan relief, establishing a living wage, peace in the Middle East or protecting farmland in the district, Nelson speaks enthusiastically and with firm conviction. He also makes a point to identify specific pieces of legislation that he supports.
"I want to demonstrate to the voters that I have done my homework," he said.
It was his understanding of issues that first impressed Greg Young, a ward supervisor in Gloversville, who met Nelson at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, where they were delegates for opposing candidates.
This is another in a series of profiles on some of the Congressional candidates leading up to the June 26 primaries.
Young remembered diving into the weeds of community development block grants with Nelson and described him as the policy expert in the race. He said that people listening to Nelson realize his depth of understanding and passion about the issues in the district.
"I've never doubted his authenticity for a minute," Young said.
Some of Nelson's positions are basic-kitchen table concerns for voters, like calling for a veterans' hospital in the region and promoting the growth of high-tech infrastructure, but he also weighs in on broader issues, such as his opposition to moving the American embassy in Israel.
And while his campaign policies are rooted in facts and figures, he does begin to wax poetically when talking about what government can accomplish. "I'm incredibly optimistic because I believe we're going to rise to the challenges ahead," he said.
Nelson believes his issues will resonate with primary voters and points to his victory in three out of five informal "straw polls" as evidence that he can win a crowded primary. "When people hear the message ... they support us overwhelmingly," he said.
The question is how many voters will receive that message, as he lacks the campaign funds of some of his primary opponents, who can reach a large swath of people with television advertisements. Instead, he touts a social media presence.
If elected in November, Nelson, 28, would be younger than Stefanik when she took office in 2015.
"It's an asset in a lot of ways," he said of his age, arguing that people want new leadership and blamed older generations for the problems that plague our society. It's his youth, he contends, that allows him to bring a fresh perspective to Congress.
Young, 33, said Nelson's age resonates with younger voters, who don't typically vote at the same rate as older voters, and could disrupt the traditional turnout for a primary election.
He added that members of Congress tend to be older and Nelson would give a voice to an underrepresented demographic.
Nelson acknowledged there has been "a bit of an ageist push back" on the campaign trail, but he believes those people simply don't know about his resume.
He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2012 with a degree in biochemistry and biophysics and ventured into the world of startups with two nano-biotechnology companies. With only a few members of Congress possessing high-tech degrees or work experiences, Nelson said he'll be a valuable addition for addressing 21st century issues, like regulating cryptocurrencies, dealing with climate change and crafting drug regulations.
This is not Nelson's first time campaigning in the 21st Congressional District, but he is in the relatively new position of pushing his own name.
"Nobody spent more time knocking on doors over the last four years than I have," he said.
In 2014, he was an intern for Democrat Aaron Woolf's campaign and served as senior staff for Democrat Mike Derrick's effort in 2016. Nelson is proud of those previous efforts, which both lost overwhelmingly, but said he learned from those campaigns.
Because of his campaign experience, he said he has gotten to know the people and issues of the region. "I basically have a four-year degree on the 21st Congressional District," Nelson said.
His education as a candidate for office includes an unopposed election to a county party position, serving as a Bernie Sanders primary delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention and a losing bid for the Stillwater Town Board in 2015, when he came in third out of four candidates in a race for two seats.
Nelson also has some governmental experience, with a brief stint in Assemblyman Phil Steck's office.