LYNCOURT — U.S. Rep. John Katko could only manage a few steps at St. Daniel Church's Harvest Festival Saturday before he was approached by one constituent after another.
With only a few days to go until the election, some voters wanted the two-term Republican to know that he had their support. Others had questions for him about important issues. An example: A couple asked him about the campaign ads claiming he would cut Medicare and Social Security. He's denied this, and reiterated his pledge to preserve the programs.
Katko is seeking a third term representing the 24th Congressional District, which includes all of Cayuga, Onondaga and Wayne counties, plus the western part of Oswego County. When he was first elected in 2014, he won by 20 points. He topped that two years ago when he was re-elected by a 22-point margin.
This election, though, is different. He is being challenged by Democratic candidate Dana Balter, a visiting assistant teaching professor at Syracuse University and an activist. Since winning the Democratic primary in June, Balter has raised more than $1.9 million in her bid to unseat Katko.
Balter's fundraising haul generated more interest in the race from outside groups. House Majority PAC, a Democratic-aligned super PAC, launched a $1 million ad campaign against Katko. Other Democratic groups intervened. On the GOP side, the Congressional Leadership Fund and National Republican Congressional Committee are airing ads in the district.
Public polling shows Katko has a sizable lead in the race. The most recent Siena College poll found he is up by 14 points over Balter. But internal polling, according to those with knowledge of the surveys, indicates the race is much closer.
Katko, as evidenced by his weekend schedule, isn't taking anything for granted. He attended the Taste of Strathmore and on Sunday, participated in the final televised debate of the campaign.
At the Harvest Festival, which featured an Elvis impersonator and hundreds of people packed into a small gymnasium, Katko received a mostly positive reaction. In between people jockeying for position in food lines and looking to buy tickets for the raffle, he communicated with voters and delivered his pitch for why he deserves a third term.
Katko was encouraged by his experience at the festival.
"I don't think there's any replacement for looking someone in the eye and telling them how you feel about things," he said in an interview. "I've done that again and again throughout this campaign and I think it's going to pay off."
As Katko has throughout the campaign, he touted his record. A report found that he was one of the most bipartisan members of Congress. During the televised debates, he notes that the House has passed 33 bills he's introduced.
He said he doesn't attack people. He attributed his desire to work with anyone, including Democrats, as a main reason why he's been productive in Congress.
"I've done what I said I was going to do," he explained.
As Katko left the festival, a woman yelled to him across the parking lot. "You're a superstar!" she said.
On Election Day, Katko will learn if the rest of the 24th district agrees.