Representative John M. Katko, a moderate Republican who has defied the nation’s partisan drift by holding on to a seat in a Democratic-leaning district in Central New York, won his bid for a fourth term.
His challenger, Dana Balter, a Democratic activist and former Syracuse University professor who also lost to Mr. Katko two years ago, conceded on Friday, acknowledging that the absentee ballots yet to be counted were unlikely to allow her to overcome his lead.
The Associated Press had not called the race.
The loss was the latest disappointment for the Democratic Party, which invested heavily in trying to flip Republican-held swing districts like Mr. Katko’s in hopes of expanding its majority in the House of Representatives. Instead, Democrats are on track to lose House seats while still holding the majority.
The 24th District seat, which covers Syracuse and rural regions just south of Lake Ontario, has eluded Democrats since 2014, when Mr. Katko, a former federal prosecutor, defeated the Democratic incumbent.
The district, whose voters favored President Barack Obama twice and Hillary Clinton in 2016, is made up of slightly more registered Democrats than Republicans, and a large contingent of unaffiliated voters.
But Mr. Katko has won time and again, attracting independent voters and peeling away enough Democratic votes to defeat his challengers, by casting himself as a bipartisan lawmaker willing to work across the aisle in a divided Washington.
His electoral success made him a political anomaly: He became the only Republican in the House to represent a Democratic-leaning district, according to the Cook Partisan Voter Index, which measures how strongly a district leans toward either party.
“I promised Central New Yorkers I would act as an independent voice in Congress, and work with both Republicans and Democrats to deliver bipartisan results for our region,” Mr. Katko said in an election night statement in which he effectively claimed victory. “I am honored and humbled to have once again earned the strong support of our community.”
President Trump’s divisive figure increasingly became a political liability for Mr. Katko, who endorsed the president earlier this year even as he sought to distance himself from Mr. Trump on the campaign trail.
Ms. Balter used the endorsement as a cudgel against Mr. Katko and ran on progressive policies such as raising the minimum wage, rooting corporate money out of politics and “Medicare for all.”
But even President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s apparent victory in the district was not enough to help Ms. Balter overcome Mr. Katko’s crossover appeal.
“The current absentee ballot count makes it clear that our campaign does not have a path forward,” Ms. Balter said in a statement on Friday. “Today, I congratulate Congressman Katko on his victory.”
Throughout the campaign, both candidates sought to portray each other as members of the most extreme wings of their parties.
In their last debate, Mr. Katko warned that Ms. Balter was intent on raising taxes and repeatedly labeled her as part of the “far left.” Ms. Balter, for her part, tried to chip away at Mr. Katko’s image as a moderate, linking him directly to Mr. Trump, who is unpopular in large swaths of New York, his former home state.
In 2016, Mr. Katko called on Mr. Trump to drop out of the presidential race after the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape. In January, however, Mr. Katko said he would vote for Mr. Trump because of his achievements over four years, including his tax and trade policies, though he did not condone the president’s rhetoric and personality.
Mr. Katko won by a landslide in 2016 when Mrs. Clinton won in the 24th District, making him one of only 25 Republicans in the country to win in districts Mrs. Clinton had carried. In 2018, when Democrats toppled 22 of those Republicans to retake control of the House, Mr. Katko edged out Ms. Balter by five percentage points to hang on to his seat.
That placed Mr. Katko in the rare company of a handful of Republicans to represent districts that Mr. Trump lost in 2016.
In 2020, Mr. Katko received endorsements from local newspapers and raised more money than Ms. Balter, though she had strong financial and strategic support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which included her race in its “Red to Blue” program.
“As our nation and community emerge from this pandemic, we need strong leaders in Congress who are willing to work across party lines,” he said last week. “The voters recognize that, and I remain committed to that work.”