During a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, on Tuesday night at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, former President Donald Trump showered Stefanik with praise and reportedly declared that she could be president in 6 years.
The event and Trump’s words are among the strongest signals yet that Stefanik, the 37-year-old GOP House Conference Chair, could be on the shortlist of vice presidential candidates should Trump run for President in 2024.
Stefanik’s congressional campaign wouldn’t indulge speculation about future races, but it did confirm the money raised at Tuesday’s event.
“I’m proud to announce that last night we raised $3.2 million with President Trump for our shared effort to flip the house and save America,” Stefanik said in a statement.
The New York Post reported the event was attended by more than 200 people, with guests paying up to $25,000 a ticket. The event benefited Stefanik, Trump’s political action committee and other GOP candidates, the Post reported.
The newspaper also reported that Trump said Stefanik could run for president in 2028.
“I want to congratulate Elise on her success. Man is she moving fast. That means at this rate she’ll be president in about 6 years,” Trump reportedly said.
Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said that while it’s way too early to speculate on what Tuesday night’s event with the former president signifies for Stefanik’s future, it does bode well for her 2022 Congressional race.
“I haven’t thought about the ’24 race, forget the ’28 race. I was really more focused on the ’22 races. Call me crazy,” he said. “Certainly, [the Mar-a-Lago fundraiser] is going to help her balance sheet, and it’s going to help her with her base.”
Federal Election Commission filings show Stefanik’s congressional campaign had $3,501,641.40 in total receipts between January 1, 2021, and September 30, 2021. By contrast, frontrunner Democratic candidate Matthew Putorti’s receipts were a factor of 10 less, with $351,599.66 in receipts between June 13, 2021, and September 30, 2021.
Republican leaders in Stefanik’s district, which spans New York’s North Country and includes all of Fulton County and part of Saratoga County, said they are supportive of the congresswoman, no matter where her path leads.
“I will be behind her all the way,” said Fulton County Republican Committee Chair and NYSGOP North Country Regional Vice Chair Susan McNeil, who said the fundraiser is an indication of Stefanik’s standing in the party.
Stefanik is the House’s third-ranking Republican. “It means that the position that she is in has the eyes and ears of the individuals who are in the positions,” McNeil said. “They know that she is a doer, know that she gets things done, know that she is the kind of Republican that we stand with and stand for.”
McNeil said she agrees with Stefanik’s views that the 2020 presidential election results are in doubt, despite dozens of legal decisions across the United States determining that the results are credible. Stefanik voted not to certify the 2020 election results and supported legal action attempting to overturn the results.
Saratoga County Republican Committee Chairman Carl Zeilman called Stefanik a “natural born leader.”
“She has shown that time and time again here in our district,” Zeilman said. “I’m not surprised that somebody like the former president would say those types of things about Elise Stefanik.”
Zeilman said if Stefanik were to run for higher office, he’s confident that Stefanik wouldn’t lose sight of the region.
“It would be very hard to replace somebody like Elise Stefanik, but if there were other opportunities for her, that would be great for Saratoga County, great for our district,” he said.
Democratic candidate Putorti said Stefanik’s personal ambition hurts local residents.
“I have grave concerns when somebody else is not interested in serving but is only interested in getting more personal power. So with [Stefanik], her shift from somebody who initially wouldn’t even say Donald Trump’s name to now an unapologetic Trump loyalist, the only explanation for that is because it serves her and her quest for power,” Putorti said. “What’s most concerning to me is that she is seeking her own power while ignoring the people she claims to represent and the needs of this district. She’s voted against COVID-relief money. She voted against the infrastructure bill, which will fix roads and bridges and expand high-speed internet access.”
Alex deGrasse, Stefanik’s senior advisor, said Stefanik’s focus is on constituents in upstate New York.
“Congresswoman Stefanik is focused on securing results for the hardworking families of NY-21 and maintains historic support. She is running for Congress in New York’s North Country, where she has been continually elected by a landslide.” (Stefanik won with 58.8% of the vote in 2020.)
New York State Assemblyman Robert Smullen, a Republican who represents the 118th Assembly District, said he supports Stefanik.
“The congresswoman, she’s always around Fulton County. She’s always welcome. She’s got strong, enthusiastic support from the people in Fulton County. That I know for sure,” Smullen said. “We’re proud of [Stefanik] and all that she’s achieved. And, yeah, the sky’s the limit, I guess.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.