President Donald Trump’s visit to upstate New York on Monday was ostensibly to fundraise for Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney. But he appeared to spend more time in his opening remarks touting the long-shot GOP candidate for Senate than the vulnerable congresswoman.
In his remarks, which were opened to the press less than an hour before the start of the fundraiser in Utica, Trump did endorse Tenney, noting that she invited him to visit New York’s 22nd District and he was happy to oblige, given his many friends there.
“I’m here for Claudia. She has been incredible in Congress. She has helped us so much. She is just a wonderful person,” the president said.
“Hopefully, we put Claudia right over the top, where she belongs,” he added. “I don’t think she’s going to have any problem.”
But after less than a minute talking up Tenney, Trump turned his attention to Chele Chiavacci Farley, the Republican running against New York’s junior senator, Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.
“Good luck,” Trump said to Farley, who appeared to be in the crowd. “I see you on television a lot. You’re working hard.”
Then, by no apparent measurement other than her television appearances, Trump said to Farley, “Honestly, on the merits, you should win.”
While Trump never named Gillibrand, he said she tried to get him to donate to her campaign before he ran for president. Trump has made the claim before in a controversial tweet that alleged Gillibrand “would do anything” for campaign contributions.
“She’s very aggressive on contributions, but she’s not very aggressive on getting things done,” he said Monday in Utica.
Trump also attacked Gillibrand — again without naming her — as a “puppet” of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, pointing out that she has reversed her position on guns.
The president’s attacks on Gillibrand were so off-message that the White House print pooler mistook them for comments about Tenney’s opponent.
Trump painted Farley as an underdog in similar circumstances as he found himself in 2016, saying she may surprise a lot of people.
“You just go in and fight. You may see some big changes. You may see some things happen,” he said. “You know they saw it in my election.”
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While Trump spoke more about Farley and her opponent in his opening remarks than Tenney — whose campaign sign hovered over the podium from which he spoke — he still appeared to spend the most time talking about himself.
While he finally turned back to Tenney’s race — she faces Democratic state Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi in November — he said he expects her to do great but urged the crowd to support her.
“You’ve got to help her. You’ve got to make sure,” he said. “Because she’s running against somebody that’s a total puppet of Nancy Pelosi.”
Trump might have continued talking more about Tenney and Brindisi, but at that point, the television pool feed cut off. Since the White House had only decided at the last minute to open the event to the press, the television pool appeared to be the available broadcast feed.
While Trump carried Tenney’s 22nd District by 15 points in 2016, the freshman congresswoman is considered one of the most vulnerable House incumbents. Inside Elections rates her race against Brindisi Tilts Republican.
Operatives on both sides of the aisle have noted that Tenney’s lackluster fundraising and controversial remarks have put the district in play, though the congresswoman has said her positions are reflective of her constituents.
Democrats believe they have a strong challenger in Brindisi, whose legislative district overlaps with the 22nd District.
Tenney is one of dozens of GOP incumbents who have been outraised by their Democratic challengers, and Brindisi ended the second fundraising quarter with $1.4 million in bank to Tenney’s $1 million. Tenney has dismissed her fundraising numbers in the past, saying that she expects to be outspent in this race.
Despite Trump’s attempt to tie Brindisi to Pelosi, the Democratic hopeful is among the many running this cycle who has said he will not support her for Democratic leader.
Tenney and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to House GOP leadership, have nevertheless attacked Brindisi for his ties to Pelosi, including for accepting money from her leadership PAC.
Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.