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Will Republicans claim the youngest-ever female Congress member?

If 30-year-old Elise Stefanik holds onto her lead in the midterm election race for an upstate New York House seat, she'll make history
If 30-year-old Elise Stefanik holds onto her ... 03:31

BALLSTON SPA, NY-- "Millennial" voters expected at the ballot boxes Tuesday have, according to recent poll numbers, taken a turn toward Republicans: A Harvard Institute of Politics (IOP) survey of the nation's 18- to-29-year-old Americans found that while the so-called millennials still prefer Democrats, a slight majority of those who will actually show up on Election Day, are expected to pull the lever for the GOP.

That's good news for Elise Stefanik, a millennial herself, who at the tender age of 29 years secured the Republican nomination this summer for New York's 21st congressional district. Should she succeed--and her latest surge in the polls suggests she will--she'll be the youngest woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress.

"It's pretty exciting!" Stefanik told CBS News, still slightly dampened from the door-to-door outing she'd just wrapped up amid spotty rain showers in upstate New York.

"What's cool is that at our events, oftentimes parents are now bringing their young girls," Stefanik said. "So there are a lot of young girls who now have 'Elise for Congress' stickers, who come to the events, who normally wouldn't be a part of political rallies. But their parents are making sure they know that they too can run for office someday."

Asked whether she sees herself as a role model, Stefanik hastened, "I hope so!"

One advantage Stefanik enjoys is that her district skews young--in Watertown, the main city in her district, the median age is 32.

Stefanik's candidacy also has the strong support from the GOP establishment, which sees her as an appealing figure for the party. She worked as an aide in the Bush White House, was policy director for her party's platform in 2012, and prepared Paul Ryan for his vice presidential debate against Joe Biden.

She has attracted the attention of some of the most powerful conservative donors in the country, including Paul Singer, who donated heavily to her campaign. And American Crossroads and the National Republican Congressional Committee each spent roughly $750,000 on her race. Stefanik is taking a measured approach to governing, should she win.

"Part of the reason I'm running is I think there's an opportunity to work more effectively on a bipartisan basis on the big issues," she said.

There are plenty of young candidates this cycle - among them, Stefanik's fellow northeasterners Seth Moulton and Marilinda Garcia. But if elected, Stefanik--who just turned 30--is still younger than any of them.

"Regardless of your political affiliation, we need more young women in Congress. And I hope to add one more crack in the glass ceiling," Stefanik said.

Fifty-one percent of young Americans who say they definitely plan to vote in the midterm elections prefer a Republican-run Congress, compared to the 47 percent who prefer Democratic control. In this race to fill retiring Democratic Rep. Bill Owens' seat, recent poll numbers have Stefanik up as much as 18 points over Democrat Aaron Woolf. Her lead over Woolf has climbed 10 points since last week.

"I think people are just looking for a breath of fresh air," Stefanik said. "We're going to a high number of households, and the feedback has been generally positive... So this is a great example of how our campaign is able to reach beyond typical party lines."

Rick Mendez, a Ballston Spa, N.Y., resident who had never before heard of Stefanik, said he would seriously consider voting for her based on her retail-politicking style: "I think it's great to get some young blood in Congress, and our elected officials need to have some new perspectives," he said.

The biggest challenge, though, is that Stefanik's district is geographically one of the biggest east of the Mississippi.

"I think there's where my youth and energy is actually an asset," said Stefanik. "I've outworked the other candidates in this race getting around the district."

"Honestly, I didn't even know who she was before she came to my house, but... I think I would support her," Mendez said. "I loved her energy, I loved the fact that she was willing to be out here and actually talk to us."

Stefanik's focus on small business comes from watching her family create its own enterprise, Premium Plywood Products, where she pitched in with sales calls and helped to manage the company.

"I'm really interested in having a conversation with other new millennial candidates, hopefully," Stefanik said, "whether they're Republican or Democrat, about our nation's debt and spending - because my generation will inherit the spending."

And as one of Facebook's first users as a student at Harvard University, she's seized on her generation's fixation with social media, and stands ready to deploy it in the halls of the Capitol: "One of my ideas is that we post every vote on Facebook and on social media so that voters have an opportunity to hold their elected official accountable."

According to one 17-year-old who supports Stefanik - but won't quite be old enough to vote Tuesday, her strategy just might be working.

"I've seen a lot of people who really enjoy speaking with her and meeting her because of how young she is," said Ballston Spa-based Antonio Bianchi, who's been volunteering on campaigns. "It's impressive to them."

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