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Elise Stefanik Believes She Can Turn New York Into a Republican State

AMSTERDAM, N.Y. — The event, hard by the Mohawk River, was a meet-and-greet opportunity for some of the Republican Party’s most notable candidates in New York. But Representative Elise Stefanik’s focus clearly extended far beyond her re-election bid.

“We are seeing the results of one-party Democrat rule both in Albany and in Washington, and it has created crisis, after crisis, after crisis,” Ms. Stefanik said, with her attacks on the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and other Democrats drawing the biggest applause lines.

“The bad ideas that start in Albany, often times they percolate to Washington,” she added.

Ms. Stefanik, the chair of the House Republican Conference, is at the forefront of a push for her party to regain control of Congress, and she believes that New York — perennially a Democratic state — can lead the way. She predicts that Republicans will win 15 of the state’s 26 House seats, which, percentage-wise, would be a Republican record for New York.

And her efforts in New York — appearing at fund-raisers and news conferences across the state — are predicated on a message that New York’s Rockefeller-era Republicanism, with moderate positions on social issues girded by fiscal and budgetary austerity, is over.

“A lot of the Republican base, what was part of that movement, has left the state,” said the former congressman Tom Reed, a Republican who served as chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus and who resigned last spring from a district encompassing the state’s Southern Tier. “They are just not there anymore.”

Others were even more blunt about the status of the Rockefeller model.

“That’s over,” said Al D’Amato, the former Republican senator from New York. “That’s over.”

The shift in the Republican Party echoes the arc of Ms. Stefanik’s political career.

A Harvard-educated striver from upstate New York, Ms. Stefanik was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress in 2014, running as a moderate in a district that had previously been represented by Representative Bill Owens, a centrist Democrat.

She rose fast in the ranks, banking right with the election of Mr. Trump as president in 2016 and quickly earning his approbation after she staunchly defended him during his first impeachment hearing.

By May 2021, she had effectively deposed Representative Liz Cheney to become chair of the House Republican Conference, making her the third-highest ranking Republican in that chamber. She voted against certifying the vote confirming President Biden’s victory and now describes herself as “Ultra MAGA” and “proud of it.”

If, as is expected, Ms. Stefanik wins a fifth term next month, she will be the most senior member of the state’s Republican delegation. She is also the first New Yorker to hold a position of leadership in the Republican Party since Representative Tom Reynolds, from western New York, served as chair of National Republican Congressional Committee from 2003 to 2006. And she’s proven a potent draw for donors, raising more than $10 million, often in small dollars, for congressional races and party committees nationwide, according to her campaign, while giving money to conservative candidates from Rhode Island to California.

Her influence on candidates has already been seen across the state, with candidates in races in Long Island trumpeting and raising funds off Ms. Stefanik’s endorsement, including Nicholas J. LaLota, a former Navy lieutenant who is running to fill Mr. Zeldin’s seat, and George Santos, a financier who attended the Jan. 6 rally and is running in the Third Congressional District.

With New York potentially being a battleground for control of the House, Ms. Stefanik’s efforts have also been backed by national party leaders: At a September fund-raiser in Washington, D.C., for Mike Lawler, who is trying to knock off Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, she appeared alongside Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House.

How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

In early October, Ms. Stefanik also co-hosted a $1,000-a-ticket reception at the Women’s National Republican Club in Manhattan, alongside Representative Tom Emmer, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, raising more than $120,000 for seven of the state’s Republican congressional candidates.

Her principal campaign committee — Elise for Congress, currently home to a $3 million bankroll — has also given steadily to other congressional candidates across New York, as well as to county committees and small-bore races like county judgeships. She also leads the Elise Victory Fund (a joint fund-raising committee), and E-Pac, which works to elect female Republicans.

That sort of beneficence, as well as her outspoken appearances on conservative cable news shows and constant critiques of President Biden and Democratic policies, have positioned Ms. Stefanik to become one of New York’s few Republican kingmakers, on par with Mr. Trump and, previously, Mr. D’Amato.

“She’s one of the coolest rock stars we have,” said Sally Hogan, who leads a Republican women’s organization in the Capital region which expresses “100 percent support” for Mr. Trump. “She stands up for women and for Republican values.”

And there are Republicans who still identify with the Rockefeller era, including Mr. Katko, the soon-to-be congressional retiree who espouses a bipartisan philosophy, and was one of just 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump in 2021.

“My bread and butter is always that the other side is not the enemy,” he said in an interview earlier this fall. “The Democrats love the country just as much as we do. They just have a different approach.”

Another New York Republican who strayed from the party’s orthodoxy — Representative Chris Jacobs — is also retiring, after embracing gun control policies in the wake of a racist massacre in Buffalo, adjacent to his district in western New York.

Mr. Jacobs’s decision led Ms. Stefanik to a somewhat surprising endorsement of Carl Paladino, a Buffalo-area developer and former candidate for governor with a long history of racist and sexist slurs, in a June primary to fill that seat. (Among other remarks, Mr. Paladino, who lost to Andrew Cuomo in the race for governor in 2010, commented that Hitler is “the kind of leader we need today.”)

The endorsement of Mr. Paladino signaled Ms. Stefanik’s willingness to take on the status quo in the state party: Mr. Paladino’s opponent was Nick Langworthy, the party’s chairman, who was assailed by one of Ms. Stefanik’s top aides who called on him to resign. Mr. Langworthy fired back, accusing Ms. Stefanik of a “vendetta.” she did not back down, lending staff to Mr. Paladino during his primary campaign.

He did not win, though he has continued to criticize Mr. Langworthy, calling him a “nightmare” for the state party in a recent interview, while lavishing praise on Ms. Stefanik.

“She’s very bright. She’s got that North Country thing going for her: She’s so practical and down to earth,” Mr. Paladino said. “And yeah, she helped me and I’m very thankful for that and all the help that she sent me. I can’t say enough good things about her.”

Mr. Langworthy, who is expected to be elected to Congress next month, declined to comment on Mr. Paladino or Ms. Stefanik, who, for her part, says the feud is settled. “We haven’t spoken,” she said, of Mr. Langworthy, “but we’re working great with the New York G.O.P.”

Jay Jacobs, the Democratic state party chair, said that Ms. Stefanik’s predictions of a “red tsunami” were overblown. “My advice to the congresswoman is, ‘Don’t count your chickens till they hatch,’” Mr. Jacobs said. “A lot can happen in the last 10 days of any campaign, particularly because that is when most voters really begin to pay attention.”

In her own race, Ms. Stefanik, who lives in Schuylerville, in Saratoga County, N.Y., is expected to prevail in the 21st Congressional District, an enormous, solidly Republican district that encompasses all or part of 15 counties in northern New York. Her opponent is Matt Castelli, a former C.I.A. officer specializing in counterterrorism, who has attacked Ms. Stefanik for the very ambition that has made her famous, claiming it has come at a cost to her constituents.

“She sold out her district in order to advance her career, and that is readily transparent to voters across the political spectrum,” Mr. Castelli, 41, said. “And people are really turned off by it.”

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