Eleven of the 12 GOP county chairs in NY-21 voted to endorse Elise Stefanik to run on their line this fall for the seat of retiring Democratic Rep. Bill Owens – a race that looks (at the moment anyway) like it’s the Republicans’ to lose.

“We appreciate the efforts put forth by all of our prospective candidates, and we are fortunate to have such individuals from which to select our next Member of Congress,” said Essex County Chairman Ron Jackson, who also serves as a state GOP vice chairman.

“In the end, I think the results speak for themselves. Elise possesses the drive, small business experience, and institutional knowledge necessary to create jobs while faithfully representing the aspirations and values of North Country residents.”

The Jefferson County GOP abstained because it has decided not to endorse any candidate at this date, although its members are committed to carrying petitions (which must start circulating in March, thanks to the court-mandated June primary date) for any Republican candidate.

The chairs also released this joint statement:

“January was a busy month not only for the candidates, but for the committees, and Elise Stefanik demonstrated why she will make an outstanding Congresswoman representing Upstate New York. Elise knows the issues, understands the regulatory hurdles burdening small businesses, and she has energetically worked throughout this long and transparent process. We are not surprised by the overwhelming support she received from the committees. She’s someone Republicans, Conservatives and Independents can all rally around.”

Stefanik recently moved back to the district to help run her family’s playwood business. Prior to that, she was working in Washington, D.C. She ran debate preparations for the GOP’s vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, during the 2012 campaign, and also served in the domestic policy and chief of staff’s offices during President George W. Bush’s second term.

Several of Stefanik’s ex-Bush administration colleagues are helping her with this run, including former White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joel Kaplan.

Stefanik has been criss-crossing the district and meeting with rank-and-file Republicans since she announced her candidacy last August. She was the first out of the gate with a county committee endorsement (Saratoga, which is a newcomer to NY-21 since the last round of redistricting), and managed to hold onto her frontrunner status even after interest in the race intensified following Owens’ surprise announcement that he would not seek re-election this fall.

According to the most recent FEC filing, Stefanik has so far raised in excess of $250,000 for her campaign.

The county chairs backed Stefanik despite a Public Opinion Strategies poll that surfaced yesterday showing her trailing businessman Matt Doheny, who twice challenged Owens and lost. Doheny reportedly expressed interest in running a third time, but has consistently refused to return calls for comment.

Tea Party leader and retired Army Maj. Joseph Gilbert and activist Michael Ring were also seeking the GOP line.

“I’m humbled by the endorsement today by the North Country GOP Chairs, Stefanik said in a statement. “It shows our campaign’s message to bring new ideas and new leadership to Washington is resonating throughout Upstate.”

“But we’re just getting started – I will continue working as hard as I ever have to earn the support of Republicans, Conservatives and Independents across the district to win this seat back. I thank the county Chairs for the time and energy they’ve given during this process, and I thank the hundreds of county committee members who attended endorsement meetings during January to hear from the candidates.”

The NY-21 Democrats are expected to select a candidate within the next 10 days. Former Republican Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, who was forced out of the 2009 special election in what was then NY-23 by Conservative Doug Hoffman and then endorsed Owens, is reportedly interested in running on the Democratic line. She’s now working in the Cuomo administration.

Former state Sen. Darrel Aubertine has also been mentioned as a potential candidate. He resigned his post as Cuomo’s agriculture commissioner last year and is now working in state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

Assemblywoman Addie Russell has said she’s currently focused on seeking re-election to her state-level seat, but has had conversations with party leaders about running in Owens’ stead. UPDATED: TWC’s Brian Dwyer spoke to Russell today and reports she has firmly closed the door on a run, saying: “I’m looking forward to working with whoever becomes our next member of Congress to ensure that we continue to move forward here in the North Country.”

Dwyer also reports that Jon Cardinal, an aide to US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, is also mulling a run.