President Trump will make his first visit to upstate New York since his inauguration, attending a bill-signing in Fort Drum and headlining a closed-door fund-raiser for Representative Claudia Tenney in Utica on Monday, marking one of his first forays into a House battleground district that will help determine control of Congress this fall.
Ms. Tenney’s district, which stretches from Binghamton to Lake Ontario in Central New York, is one of the most fought-over seats in America, with more than $1.6 million in “super PAC” money already pouring into the contest, more than any other in New York race.
Mr. Trump has trumpeted his role as a kingmaker in this year’s Republican primaries — “5 for 5!” he wrote on Twitter after candidates who he endorsed won last week — and he is expected to want to affect the fall electoral map, as well. He has already campaigned against incumbent Senate Democrats in states, such as Montana and North Dakota, that he carried by wide margins.
The problem for the White House, and Mr. Trump, is that many House battlegrounds are in suburban districts where Mr. Trump’s polarizing presence might not help the Republican incumbents, some of whom have tried to create some distance from him.
Not so with Ms. Tenney, who has closely allied herself with the White House in a district that Mr. Trump carried by more than 15 percentage points in 2016. Last month, Ivanka Trump, Mr. Trump’s daughter and a top White House adviser, also visited Ms. Tenney, holding a round-table discussion in the district. Ms. Tenney and Ms. Trump climbed onto some heavy machinery together as photographers snapped pictures of them.
Ms. Tenney, who is in her first term, narrowly won a three-way contest with 46.5 percent of the vote in 2016, and her re-election is seen as a tossup, as Democrats recruited a more centrist challenger, Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi. Both Mr. Brindisi and Ms. Tenney have raised nearly $2 million.
Ms. Tenney’s campaign is already using some Trump-style, racially charged messaging, with an early attack ad splicing together seemingly disparate black-and-white images of tattoo-covered Latino men, Nancy Pelosi, people scrambling up border walls, and Mr. Brindisi; the ad accuses Mr. Brindisi of putting “illegal immigrants before upstate New Yorkers.”
Other ads feature her on a motorcycle.
Some Republicans are perplexed that Mr. Trump — who can draw massive crowds at a rally or massive checks from deep-pocketed donors — would choose to headline a closed-door fund-raiser in Utica, a city of 60,000 hardly known for its financial might.
Tickets to get in to Monday’s event start at $1,000. For $15,000, hosts receive access to an exclusive round table and reception with Mr. Trump, plus a photo.
Contrast that to the summit of “super PAC” donors that Mr. Trump addressed in May in Washington, where tickets ranged as high as $250,000.
“It’s actually one of the most reasonable and lowest priced fund-raisers the president of the United States has held,” Ms. Tenney said in a radio interview last week, adding that the president’s political team had chosen the location. She said she didn’t “know the reasoning” behind why Utica had been selected.
While Mr. Trump has remained popular among Republicans in upstate New York, his tariffs and restrictive immigration policies threaten to erode some of that support in the agriculture-heavy region.
On a recent Friday, not long after assisting one of his cows give birth to twins, Mike McMahon, the owner of E-Z Acres, a dairy farm in Homer, N.Y., lamented the state of the upstate dairy industry, which relies on migrant labor and has suffered as the price of milk has dropped, in part because of new tariffs.
“I’m discouraged by the inaction of the Republican Party to do anything to resolve the situation he’s put us in — and that includes Claudia Tenney,” Mr. McMahon said.
He had been a lifelong Republican but is now supporting Mr. Brindisi, who took a tour of his farm last month. He recently changed his party affiliation to independent, calling Mr. Trump’s policy of separating children from the parents at the border the “last straw.”
Mr. Trump’s first stop on Monday will be in Fort Drum, which is in the district of Representative Elise Stefanik, another Republican. Ms. Stefanik had invited him to visit in a March letter, noting that the 10th Mountain Division based there had been “the most actively deployed division to Iraq and Afghanistan in the entire U.S. Army.”
Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton had all visited Fort Drum while in the White House. (The last president to stop through Utica, Ms. Tenney has said, was Harry Truman on a 1948 whistle-stop tour.)
Ms. Stefanik’s seat, which stretches from north of Albany to the Canadian border, is seen as one of the most solidly Republican in the state, with Ms. Stefanik carrying 65 percent of the vote in 2016. She is running for her third term after becoming the youngest woman elected to Congress in 2014, a record that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, is expected to break in November.
Tyler Pager reported from Utica, N.Y.