FLEMING — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is a Democratic star. She has nearly $10 million in her campaign war chest. Polls show she has a large lead in her re-election bid. Political forecasters rate the race "solid Democrat."
Don't tell that to Chele Farley, Gillibrand's Republican challenger.
Farley delivered the keynote address Saturday at the Cayuga County Women's Republican Club's annual spring brunch. The event drew more than 130 people, including several GOP candidates for federal, state and local offices.
In front of a friendly audience, Farley told her story. She discussed her background in engineering and finance. She recalled how proud her mother was when she attended Stanford University. Her father, a rocket scientist, raised her as if she was the son he never had. She is married and is a stepmother to three boys, one of whom has autism.
Her main focus, though, was the Senate race few think she can win. Democrats have a sizable enrollment advantage in New York. When Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was last on the ballot, she won by 46 points.
Farley acknowledged whether she can win is a "fair question to ask."
"I understand the difficulty of the challenge," she said in her address at the Springside Inn in Fleming. "But we will win because we are right on the issues."
One of those issues is New York's status as a donor state. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released a report last year that revealed New York pays $40 billion more in taxes than it receives in federal funding. Analyses over the years suggest the disparity is getting worse.
For Farley, getting at least a portion of that money back is a top priority if she's elected to the Senate. The additional funding could be used to support infrastructure projects and job creation efforts.
"People are like, 'You won't be able to bring it all back' and I say, 'You're probably right'. But something is better than nothing," she said. "Right now, we're not getting anything."
Getting the federal government to return more money to New York won't be easy. New York's status as a donor state isn't a new problem. The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan railed against the gap during his tenure in the Senate.
How do you reverse the trend? Farley believes the state's senators need to be more vocal.
"You keep saying it and you need a list of projects that need the money," she said.
In an interview following her address, Farley shared her positions on other issues. She said President Donald Trump's immigration blueprint "made sense." Trump called for a permanent fix to protect immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, $25 billion to construct a border wall, changes to legal immigration and the elimination of the visa lottery system.
She blamed ongoing obstruction for the reason there hasn't been an agreement on immigration reform legislation.
"I think people just don't want to come up with a solution," she said. "They want to complain about it, which is ridiculous. Let's solve it and move on."
On health care, Farley questioned the fairness of the Affordable Care Act's limit on how much more older Americans pay for premiums. The law prohibits insurers from charging older consumers more than three times what younger adults pay for health insurance premiums.
A Republican proposal unveiled in 2017 would have dismantled the Affordable Care Act and increase the limit on how much more insurers can charge older consumers.
Using a hypothetical 60-year-old as an example, Farley explained that the individual could have "a lot more medical issues and has been working for 30, 40 years and has more money to pay for" health insurance.
"It's only fair and reasonable," she said.
Farley's main critique of Gillibrand centers on the senator's legislative record. She has repeatedly claimed that Gillibrand has introduced more than 300 measures during her congressional career and none of them have been signed into law. While it's true that Gillibrand hasn't had one of her bills signed into law, she's had proposals included in larger measures that have been enacted.
Any statewide race in New York is an uphill battle for Republicans, but the party is unified behind the party's nominee for U.S. Senate. Former Gov. George Pataki, the last GOP candidate to win statewide, endorsed Farley. Members of the state's GOP congressional delegation, including U.S. Reps. Elise Stefanik and Claudia Tenney, support her.
At the Cayuga County Women's Republican Club event, U.S. Rep. John Katko spoke before Farley. He recalled how the group's president asked him to contact Farley and ask if she would headline the club's brunch.
According to Katko, she didn't hesitate. She immediately accepted the invitation.
"That's a sign of someone who responds," he said. "That's a good sign ... We hope you're very successful in the fall, that's for sure."
With the election less than six months away, Farley said she is continuing to assemble her staff — her campaign manager, Dain Pascocello, joined her for Saturday's event — and has been fundraising at a steady pace.
Farley, who was the state Republican Party's New York City finance chair, said she has already raised four times as much as Wendy Long spent during the last Senate campaign. She has previously said she intends to raise $10 million to compete with Gillibrand. She also hopes to get support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and other national GOP groups.
"I believe that we will be successful," she said.