By Nick Reisman
August 28th, 2023
POTSDAM, N.Y. — Elise Stefanik is betting big on 2024.
The leading House Republican says she convinced her party to flood key swing districts in New York with $100 million in campaign cash. She joined Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the Hamptons for a previously unreported fundraiser with deep-pocketed donors and lawmakers. And she shared a sprawling digital database of contributors with the state GOP.
Nearly a year after Republicans flipped three battleground House seats in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island, Stefanik insists she has a plan that will allow the party to hold off a Democratic offensive. Control of Congress may depend on her success — not to mention her political future.
And Stefanik knows it.
“I’ve been underestimated from the beginning,” she said in an interview Wednesday at a dairy farm in her Upstate New York district, not far from the Canadian border. “That’s been a trend my entire time in Congress.”
She’s pledging to “make sure” her Republican colleagues in New York have the resources needed to win. A Stefanik adviser, granted anonymity to discuss the private plans, put it more bluntly: “It’s a guerilla warfare mentality.”
Stefanik, 39, has quickly emerged as a leading political power broker within the party, both in Washington and at home. She’s a devoted ally of former President Donald Trump, and she’s made her northern New York district, which runs through the Adirondacks, a lock for the GOP.
It has given her the independence and the gravitas to help Republicans across the state. Campaign offices have opened more than a year before the first votes are cast and are being seeded with Republican staffers in the Hudson Valley, Central New York and on Long Island — areas both parties must do well in if they hope to win the House majority.
She has also edged away from embattled GOP Rep. George Santos, now under federal indictment, after she supported him last year, saying she will leave the future of that district up to Long Island Republicans. That’s a shift for her from last year, when she used her influence to try to sway several Republican primaries, only to see some of her favored candidates lose.
Stefanik will be taking the reins in New York at the same time Democratic House Leader Hakeem Jeffries plans to steer the party’s efforts to win back the seats lost in 2022.
So it’s a duel for New York between two of Washington’s top leaders.
New York Republicans are hopeful Stefanik can outmaneuver the other side. Her involvement “is a tremendous asset to our party not just nationally, but here in New York state,” New York GOP chairman Ed Cox said.
Republican candidates in New York’s swing seats will likely need all the help they can get.
The GOP is facing myriad challenges, including the potential for a new round of redistricting that could see Democrats in Albany drawing new congressional lines to their advantage. New York’s top court is set to hear a challenge to the existing districts in November.
The money being raised and sent to New York by Republicans is expected to go to advertising and to support potential legal challenges.
Stefanik said she is part of a coordinated effort with the Republican National Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm and multiple political action committees to boost the party’s most vulnerable incumbents. She pegged the total haul will be around $100 million between the campaigns and the candidates.
Republicans will have to play more defense than offense as they seek to shore up newly elected lawmakers Mike Lawler and Marc Molinaro in the Hudson Valley; Long Island’s Anthony D’Esposito and Brandon Williams in Central New York. And they have to figure out who will be the most viable candidate in Santos’ seat — presuming he is unable to win a crowded primary next spring.
And in a potential pickup, Republicans are targeting first-term Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan in the Hudson Valley — who won a special election a year ago and then cruised in November as the only Democrat to win the region.
Stefanik has directly helped to raise at least $150,000 for each of the vulnerable lawmakers, her team estimated. Fundraising work is also being done with politically influential local GOP county chairs, including Nassau’s powerful party head Joe Cairo.
Democrats have already signaled plans to spend heavily in New York next year in a bid to make Brooklyn’s own Jeffries the next House speaker. The House Democrats’ super PAC plans to spend $45 million on a mix of digital and TV ads as well as voter outreach.
Stefanik herself has become a national lightning rod for Democratic voters and Trump critics, and her growing role in her home state will amplify her profile.
Loyalty to Trump is what catapulted Stefanik into a coveted leadership post, replacing Trump foe Liz Cheney, the former Wyoming House member who helped lead the Jan. 6 commission.
Democrats have seized on Stefanik’s previous support for Santos, as well as measures to limit abortion coverage and gun control.
“Elise Stefanik is a MAGA extremist who is leading vulnerable New York Republicans to pledge allegiance to their dangerous, far-right party,” said Ellie Dougherty, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
For their part, Republicans are expected to hammer Democrats over the influx of migrants into the state, as well as concerns about crime — an issue that was potent for the GOP in the last election cycle.
Stefanik believes those issues will be on the minds of voters in New York and other Democratic-dominated states like California.
“I think that assumption that these are blue states is somewhat false in the sense that they have been the best opportunity for us to pick up seats,” she said.
Her help for Republican candidates last year didn’t completely work out in her favor. She endorsed bombastic Western New York businessman Carl Paladino over then-GOP state chair Nick Langworthy, who ultimately won, creating a rift between them.
Langworthy and Stefanik have set their differences aside since he took office last year, both lawmakers said.
“We have a very collaborative relationship,” Langworthy, another freshman member, said. “In a tight majority, we have to stick together.”
Stefanik does not plan to endorse in New York congressional primaries and has also staked out a neutral position on Santos, whose tangle of lies and federal fraud indictment have been fodder for Democrats and led some New York Republicans to call for his ouster.
“I really defer to them in terms of who they believe is the best candidate for that part of the district,” she said of local GOP leaders on Long Island.