Written by Jimmy Vielkind for The Wall Street Journal on July 12, 2020
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik is on track to raise $10 million in her re-election bid this year, the fruits of a fundraising machine that observers say will fuel the New York Republican’s rise.
Ms. Stefanik will report raising $1.6 million in the quarter that ended on June 30, bringing her cash on hand to $4.4 million, campaign officials said. That gives Ms. Stefanik the largest war chest of any Republican politician in the state. She has more money in the bank than the total amount Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro raised during his campaign for governor in 2018.
Ms. Stefanik, 36 years old, became the youngest woman to serve in Congress when she was elected in 2014 to represent the 21st District—which includes the Adirondack Park, as well as the Champlain and St. Lawrence valleys. The Democratic candidate is Tedra Cobb, a former Saint Lawrence County legislator who unsuccessfully challenged Ms. Stefanik in 2018.
Both women saw a flood of contributions last year, when Ms. Stefanik took a leading role in House hearings over the impeachment of President Trump. Mr. Trump tweeted a video of Ms. Stefanik questioning former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and commented that “a new Republican star is born.”
Small donations from around the country started pouring into both the Stefanik and Cobb campaign accounts. Ms. Stefanik raised over $3 million during the quarter that included the hearings and Ms. Cobb over $2 million. Fundraising for both has subsequently declined, but Ms. Cobb saw a steeper drop. As of June 3, Ms. Cobb’s campaign had $2.5 million on hand. It declined to provide a more recent figure.
Ms. Stefanik’s association with Mr. Trump has remained strong. She recently traveled to Tulsa, Okla., to attend one of his campaign rallies and is a co-chair of his re-election efforts in New York.
Ms. Cobb has made this a point of attack in social-media advertisements. Cobb campaign manager Gabie Hart said in an interview that Ms. Stefanik’s fundraising prowess showed she is “a Washington insider” who is “more focused on her own D.C. stardom than helping the people she was elected to represent.”
Ms. Stefanik said she is proud to support the president and is working hard for her constituents. Mr. Trump carried the 21st District by a wide margin and, according to the Stefanik campaign’s polling, continues to do well there.
Ms. Stefanik defeated Ms. Cobb by 14 points in 2018. Of the 447,247 people registered to vote in the district as of February, there were 46,366 more enrolled Republicans than Democrats. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report classifies the race as solid Republican.
Some veteran Republicans are already looking at what lies beyond an expected re-election for Ms. Stefanik. Her donor lists could provide an important base if she ever tried to make a statewide run, said Jason Weingartner, a fundraising consultant and former executive director of New York’s Republican State Committee.
Small donations can build a sense of viability that attracts larger contributions, Mr. Weingartner said, and Ms. Stefanik could use money from her congressional campaign committee for a statewide race.
Former Rep. Thomas Reynolds, a Republican from Western New York who chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Ms. Stefanik could also direct money and donors to incumbents facing tough races. This could help garner support for leadership positions within Congress as she gains seniority, he said.
“There are different ways that the ability of raising that money can go to work to promote and elect Republicans both in New York and across the country. And when you do that, you’re building relationships and making friends,” he said.
This is already happening: Ms. Stefanik has held fundraisers with Republican candidates for the state Senate and is helping candidates with donations from a separate political-action committee as well as her own campaign committee.
Ms. Stefanik said she is focused on winning another term in November, but didn’t rule out interest in someday seeking statewide office—something no New York Republican has successfully done since 2002.
“I don’t plan out my life in the long term,” she said. “A good lesson in life is if you do a good job at the responsibilities you’re given, you oftentimes get future opportunities or future encouragement.”
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