The GOP's Empire State of mind
© Greg Nash

House Republicans are taking the election fight to Democratic campaign chief Steve Israel’s back yard.

In the midterm homestretch, House GOP leaders are pouring more time and money into races in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman’s deep-blue home state of New York as they try to grow the map — and their own majority.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is making multiple fundraising stops in the Empire State this weekend, following on the heels of Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerIs Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE. The Ohio Republican tapped state Sen. Lee Zeldin, who's challenging Democratic Rep. Tim BishopTimothy (Tim) Howard BishopDem candidate 'struck by the parallels' between Trump's rise and Hitler's Dems separated by 29 votes in NY House primary Flint residents hire first K Street firm MORE for his Long Island-based seat, to give Saturday’s weekly national GOP address. Elise Stefanik, the GOP’s nominee for New York’s open 21st district, gave the address a couple weeks ago.

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BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerIs Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE, McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) are also donating to a slew of New York candidates including Zeldin and Stefanik; attorney John Katko, who’s challenging Rep. Dan Maffei (D); and former Rep. Nan Hayworth in her comeback bid against Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. The House GOP’s campaign arm is spending millions of dollars on ads in the state.

Democrats downplayed the GOP’s activity in New York, arguing that both parties have won and lost seats in the state in recent cycles. But National Republicans argue Israel’s recruiting failures in upstate New York have allowed the GOP to turn their focus to traditionally blue-leaning districts.

Democratic multimillionaire self-funder Sean Eldridge’s campaign to oust Republican Rep. Chris Gibson from his 19th district Hudson Valley seat has been a flop. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dropped their efforts [http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/house-races/219891-house-dems-retren... last week to unseat GOP Rep. Tom Reed in western New York and also scaled back ad reservations backing Stefanik’s foe, filmmaker Aaron Woolf, essentially ceding the seat held by retiring Democratic Rep. Bill Owens.  

The NRCC has been spending big in three New York districts that went for President Obama in the past two presidential elections: $1.5 million backing Zeldin, $1.5 million for Katko and $583,000 backing the 30-year old Stefanik, a former GOP operative and George W. Bush administration official.  

Meanwhile, American Action Network said Friday it’s spending $600,000 on mailers and online and TV ads propping up Hayworth in her race against Maloney, in the 18th district north of Manhattan. The conservative group has already dropped $1.5 million in ads against Bishop.

"We are now in a situation where failures by Democrats in upstate New York have allowed us to be on offense this cycle and given us a chance to pick up a few seats in New York," said Ian Prior, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

One New York district where you won’t find many national Republicans: that of Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm, who was indicted this year on 20 counts, including mail, wire and health care fraud and perjury. Still, the Republican is facing an uninspiring challenger in former New York City Councilman Domenic Recchia. Amazingly, Grimm’s been hanging tight in the polls, leading Comedy Central’s John Stewart to feature him in a new segment this week called, “Wait, How the F---- Does That Happen.” 

DCCC spokesman Marc Brumer argued it wasn’t unusual that Republicans are targeting seats in New York. 

"Republicans try and buy seats in New York every cycle,” said Brumer, “and it comes as no surprise that once again they are boosting candidates who they know they can count on to rubber stamp their reckless agenda."

The president is also a drag on candidates even in deep-blue New York — only 39 percent of registered voters surveyed in a Marist College poll last month said the president was doing an "excellent" or "good" job, the lowest level for Obama ever

GOP leaders are looking to seize on those vulnerabilities in seats that have long vexed them.  Last month, Boehner headed to New York to raise cash for Zeldin, Stefanik and Katko. Now McCarthy’s stepping up to the plate.

The new majority leader headlined a $250-per-person reception Friday night for Zeldin at MIXX, a restaurant and lounge in Hauppauge, in the heart of Long Island. And McCarthy will be on hand Saturday for a grilled-chicken and pulled-pork lunch for Stefanik at the Full Moon Tavern in Lake George in upstate. Then on Sunday, the California Republican will hit up a brunch for Katko at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn.

The three top House GOP leaders also have donated thousands of dollars to New York candidates from their reelection and leadership committees.

For example, Boehner gave $10,000 each to Stefanik, Katko and Zeldin, and $5,000 to Hayworth, from his Freedom Project leadership PAC. In the quarter ending Sept. 30, the speaker transferred thousands more from his reelection committee to those same candidates, plus former U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Blakeman, who’s running in the 4th district.

This fall, Boehner has used the weekly GOP radio address to help elevate the profiles of and raise cash for House hopefuls. In the final month before the November 4 election, he turned twice to New York Republicans.

“Of all the congressional races across the country, people see our campaign as one that will bring the right ideas, the level of energy, and the change people are looking for,” said Zeldin, an attorney and Iraq war veteran who now serves in the Army Reserves. “Being able to provide the national weekly Republican response to the president highlights that we are ready to take our fight to Washington."