Despite the enthusiasm of those Democratic donors, it still looks unlikely that Stefanik will face a serious challenge in 2020: For one thing, she trounced Cobb by 14 points in 2018. In a Republican-leaning district, she also has the advantages of an affectionate base and a president at the top of the 2020 ticket. And for another, it’s possible to see Stefanik’s breakout performance not as alienating to local voters, but rather as an adjustment to an electorate that has been signaling for years now, like voters in many districts across the country, that all politics are national now.
To most people I talked to in this district over the holiday weekend, Stefanik’s turn toward the Trumpian in recent weeks hasn’t been all that surprising. Critics and supporters alike call the 35-year-old Harvard grad adroit and ambitious, and her recent performance in the hearing—which local Republican leaders and constituents say played well at home—showed it.
What it also showed was a typically sharp assessment of how shifts in national polarization over the past decade are affecting a rural, mostly moderately Republican district. Residents describe this part of upstate New York as everything from “moderately conservative” to “small government and socially libertarian;” it voted in a Democrat as recently as 2012, and likes to think its Republican politics are separate from those of the Beltway, and certainly from those of New York City, from which upstate New Yorkers love to distinguish themselves.