The first presidential visit to Utica in 70 years had one goal: To show support for U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, who is facing a tough re-election bid in the 22nd Congressional District.
President Donald Trump headlined a fundraiser for Tenney, R-New Hartford, Monday at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Utica. There were an estimated 300 people at the event, according to Onondaga County Republican Chairman Tom Dadey, who was among the attendees.
With hundreds of protesters and counter-protesters outside, Tenney and Trump highlighted what many inside the hotel already knew — that they are partners in Washington.
"The people of this region have had a tough time for a long time, but we're still standing," Tenney said as she introduced Trump at the fundraiser, which cost guests up to $15,000 to attend. " And we're thrilled after decades of failed policies — sometimes from both parties — to have an ally standing with us and fighting for our region."
Moments later, Trump took the stage — his second appearance of the day in upstate New York. Earlier in the afternoon, he signed the annual National Defense Authorization Act, a major defense policy bill, at Fort Drum in Jefferson County.
Trump blasted New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, both of whom are running for re-election this year. He outlined what he believes are his administration's major achievements. His most notable accomplishment is the passage of a tax overhaul that reduced income tax rates for millions of Americans and slashed corporate tax rates from 35 to 21 percent.
Tenney was one of four New York Republicans who supported the tax proposal in the House of Representatives. It's one example of how close the Mohawk Valley Republican has been to the Trump administration.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Tenney votes with Trump's position 96.7 percent of the time. While some Republicans have distanced themselves from Trump, she has embraced the president.
That has provided fodder for Tenney's critics, but it should help her with Trump's base in the central New York district.
"I'm here for Claudia. She has been incredible in Congress. She has helped us so much," Trump said. He added, "Hopefully we put Claudia right over the top where she belongs. I don't think she's going to have any problem."
Political forecasters rate the race a toss-up, meaning it's expected to be a close contest. Tenney's opponent, Democratic state Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, has raised more money. A poll released in May found Brindisi leading by seven points over Tenney.
Trump didn't mention Brindisi by name, but claimed Democrats want to raise taxes and have open borders.
"I think Claudia is going to do great," Trump said. "You gotta help her because she is running against somebody that's a total puppet of Nancy Pelosi."
Pelosi, the top House Democrat, has supported Brindisi's campaign. Through her campaign and political action committee, she has donated $14,000. But Brindisi has said he won't support her to lead House Democrats if he's elected to Congress.
Brindisi's public statements haven't stopped Tenney's campaign from linking him to Pelosi.
"My campaign is focused on working people," Brindisi said Monday. "I don't take corporate PAC money and I've spent my time holding town halls in every county and meeting with thousands of voters. They won't fall for Claudia Tenney's smear campaign. They want an independent voice who can get things done."
Trump's visit is an indication of how high a priority the race is for Republicans. The president is taking an active role in the midterm elections to prevent a Democratic takeover of the House.
Last month, nearly 100 House Republicans each received $2,700 — the maximum amount allowed — from Trump's campaign.
Trump may return to New York before the election. In addition to Tenney's race, there are competitive contests in the 24th Congressional District (represented by U.S. Rep. John Katko, a Republican) and the 19th district, where GOP U.S. Rep. John Faso is seeking another term.
If Trump returns for a second appearance with Tenney, she would welcome him back to the Mohawk Valley.
"President Trump is truly a voice for the forgotten men and women of our region and our country," she said.