CAPITAL REGION — The two women running to represent the sprawling 21st Congressional District are reporting hefty amounts of campaign donations for the fourth quarter.
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, raised more than $3.2 million in the fourth quarter for her re-election bid, her campaign said Wednesday.
Democratic challenger Tedra Cobb raised $2.05 million during the same time period.
Stefanik reported having nearly $3.4 million cash on hand; Cobb, $2.2 million.
Fourth quarter donations for the two candidates exceeded totals for the entire 2018 campaign cycle, which saw Stefanik raising $2.8 million compared to Cobb’s $1.5 million in their first matchup.
Much of the large totals can be attributed to Stefanik's role in the House impeachment hearings. She received national notice for her sharp questioning of witnesses and harsh criticism of how Democrats conducted the hearings. Following the hearings, her critics contributed heavily to Cobb's campaign while her supporters showered her campaign with cash.
Neither candidate has yet filed full fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission, which are due Jan. 31.
With the large war chests both candidates have, voters can expect a sustained onslaught of TV and digital advertising across numerous platforms, from Facebook to YouTube, observers say.
“What we will see are commercials earlier and a more sustained effort trying to define both candidates,” said Christopher Mann, an assistant professor of political science at Skidmore College.
No polling has been made publicly available on the race, and experts are split on if the large district, which boasts a 46,000-voter registration edge by Republicans, will be competitive this fall.
Stefanik, who is seeking a fourth term in November, had a “relatively easy” ride in 2018, Mann said, beating Cobb by 14 percentage points.
But Cobb’s fundraising totals will undoubtedly make the rematch more competitive, Mann said, and the lack of a Democratic primary will allow the candidate to better plan and coordinate resources.
Political prognosticator Dave Wasserman, House editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report, disagrees.
Stefanik is “well-aligned” with her North Country district, he said, which twice voted for President Barack Obama before pivoting to Trump, who won the district by 14 percentage points in 2016.
“She’s not vulnerable in 2020,” Wasserman said in November.
Heading into the general election, Cobb will need to spend a lot of money to boost her name recognition and attack Stefanik’s stances, Turner said.
Trump will be on the ballot in 2020, activating his core base -- a factor that will benefit the incumbent, who has ardenty defended the president.
“The political enthusiasm is going to be off-the-charts,” said Bob Turner, an assistant professor of political science at Skidmore College. “And voter turnout is going to be a record high.”
Both campaigns are also expected to invest heavily in field organizers, get-out-the-vote efforts, campaign infrastructure and training for volunteers.
Building a more robust campaign infrastructure is particularly crucial for Democrats in New York’s 21st Congressional District, Turner said, because many rural communities don’t have a muscular Democratic committee infrastructure.
“In a lot of places, there’s not much in the way of a local Democratic Party,” he said.
When it comes to campaigning, Stefanik can lean into her record of constituent service, Turner said, including handing out Eagle Scout letters at local events “and doing all sorts of things to make her better known and well-liked.”
Cobb, for her part, needs to tie Stefanik to Trump, he said.
“She’s going to make this race a clear referendum on Donald Trump,” he said. “It will be the only issue to define that race, more than health care, education, Fort Drum and anything else.”
Cobb last year made the source of campaign contributions central to her campaign, lashing Stefanik for accepting funds from people from outside of the district and corporate PAC money.
Stefanik, for her part, has criticized Cobb for donations from “far-left Hollywood liberals.”
While campaign finance can play a role in primary races, Mann said the average general election voter doesn’t care.
Still to be determined is the extent of the involvement by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which backed Stefanik challenger Aaron Woolf in 2014, but sat out 2016 and 2018.
Neither the Cobb campaign or DCCC responded to requests about potential involvement on Wednesday.