When Chele Farley was asked to consider running for U.S. Senate, she did what any prospective statewide candidate would do: She traveled across New York.
What she saw and what she learned along the way helped the private equity executive, who holds engineering degrees from Stanford University, make her decision.
Farley, a Republican, launched her campaign in February with the release of a five-minute video. More than a week ago, New York Republicans nominated her to challenge U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat who is seeking her second six-year term.
Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is viewed as a safe incumbent. She has more than $9 million in her campaign war chest and won her last re-election bid by 46 points in 2012. She has been mentioned as a possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, although she insists her focus is on her Senate re-election campaign.
But Farley, who previously served as New York City finance chair for the state Republican Party, believes she can compete against Gillibrand. She plans to raise $10 million and has met with national Republican groups — the National Republican Senate Committee and the Republican National Committee — about the race. National GOP leaders have told her they will provide financial support.
One of the issues Farley has discussed early in her campaign is New York's status as a donor state. The state has long paid significantly more in taxes than it receives in federal aid. The late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan highlighted the problem while he was in office.
Recent reports indicate New York sends at least $40 billion more to Washington than it receives in federal funding.
"That's appalling," Farley said in her first post-convention interview last week. "It hasn't improved and I think it's really important that we highlight that because our infrastructure is crumbling.
"I'm an engineer. I studied engineering. The papers are constantly full of the fact that bridges are falling apart, our tunnels, our roads. We have big problems with water infrastructure. The pipes are crumbling. There is the money. We just need to bring New York's money back to New York."
That's easier said than done. Moynihan, a Democrat, raised awareness about New York's donor state status for years without any significant action to close the gap. Other New York leaders have complained about it, but there hasn't been any movement to change how the state is treated when it comes to divvying up federal dollars.
Farley thinks she can change that.
"It's highlight the issue and being really noisy about it," she said. "I'm a negotiator for a living."
She believes her negotiating skills could be useful for other legislative issues. She criticized the GOP-backed tax measure that Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed in December. She acknowledged that while the legislation is good for "a lot of New Yorkers," it could have been better.
Farley singled out the changes to state and local tax deductions. Under the tax plan, you may deduct up to $10,000 of state and local income, property and sales taxes. That was a compromise after some Republican leaders proposed eliminating the ability to deduct state and local taxes.
"Why is it not $25,000 or $30,000?" Farley asked. "(U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio) was able to double the child tax credit to get his vote. Why in the world couldn't Kirsten Gillibrand have stood up saying, 'I won't allow this. Property taxes are high in New York state. Instead of it being $10,000, I'll vote for it if it's $25,000.' I can tell you if I had been there, that's what I would've done."
As expected, Farley offered a negative review of Gillibrand's time in office. Gillibrand was appointed U.S. senator in 2009 and won elections in 2010 and 2012 to keep her seat.
Farley doesn't believe Gillibrand has been focused on New York.
"She sat on her hands during all of this with the tax bill," she said. "I want to represent New York. I will represent New York. The only job I am interested in is being a U.S. senator. I'm not interested in appealing to left-leaning coalitions to potentially run for president. I want to sit there and help bring this money back, which will also very importantly bring back jobs."
Farley's platform is still being finalized. She is preparing white papers on a host of issues, including health care and taxes. She thinks the tax plan members of her party advocated for can be improved. And she's eyeing health care reform proposals that aren't a one-size-fits-all approach.
She will also advocate for balancing the federal budget.
"I understand what it's like to have to meet a payroll and only spend the money that you have," she said.
Before Farley faces Gillibrand, she may face a primary for the Republican line. David Webber, of Fulton, has said he will circulate petitions to force a GOP primary.
To appear on the primary ballot, Webber must collect 15,000 valid signatures over the next month.
But Farley's focus is on Gillibrand. After winning the GOP nomination, she plans to continue traveling across the state. She has some upstate trips planned over the next few weeks.
"The idea is to really have a conversation with all of the other New Yorkers to see what their needs are," Farley said. "I want to have a laundry list of projects that need funding and then go down to Washington and get as much funding as I possibly can for all of them."