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Collins’ Exit Sends New York Republicans Scrambling to Find Replacement

GOP candidates coming out of the woodwork to express interest in seat, sources say

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., was facing Democrat Nat McMurray in the 27th District before he decided to suspend his campaign. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., was facing Democrat Nat McMurray in the 27th District before he decided to suspend his campaign. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Chris Collins’ decision to suspend his re-election campaign following his recent indictment on insider trading charges has upended the race for his Western New York seat, and Republicans in the area are scrambling to determine their next steps.

Two GOP county chairmen said Saturday they expected Collins’ name to be removed from the 27th District ballot. The Republican chairs for the eight counties in the district are expected to meet early next week, potentially on Tuesday, to pick a new nominee.

According to the chairmen and GOP consultant Michael Caputo, Republican candidates were coming out of the woodwork to express their interest in the seat.

Those interested in the race so far include: Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw; state Assemblymen David DiPietro, Stephen Hawley and Ray Walter; state Sen. Pat Gallivan, a former Erie County sheriff; and David Bellavia, an Iraq War veteran and local radio host. And the list of potential GOP hopefuls was expected to grow.

Buffalo businessman and former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, an early Trump supporter who claimed to have gotten Collins on board with Trump in 2016, tweeted on Saturday afternoon that he’s “all in” for the 27th District race.  

Caputo, who was an adviser to President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, ran Bellavia’s primary campaign against Collins in 2012 when, he noted, Bellavia won six of the eight counties in the district.

Collins had been facing pressure from local and national Republicans to step aside after he was indicted Wednesday for insider trading and lying to the FBI. He originally said he would still run for re-election while fighting the charges.

“If Chris Collins had stayed on the ballot and run to November, he would have lost New York 27,” said Caputo, who noted that Democrats could move to impeach President Donald Trump if they win back the House. (Trump carried the 27th District by 24 points in 2016.)

“So much was at stake that Chris Collins had no choice,” Caputo said.

The White House had also been pressuring Collins, the first sitting lawmaker to endorse Trump’s presidential campaign, to step aside, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions. The source said that, as of Friday night, the president had not yet gotten directly involved.

Watch: Collins’ Challenger — We Raised More This Morning Than ‘In the Whole Race’

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Still in play?

Republicans noted Saturday that Collins’ decision not to run could help them hold on to the 27th District. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the general election contest Likely Republican.

[Rating Change: Chris Collins’ Arrest Puts Seat in Play]

But some expressed concern about a candidate launching a campaign less than three months out before Election Day.

Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray, the Democrat challenging Collins, has said he has seen a boost in fundraising since the news broke. And McMurray could be better-known than another Republican candidate, given he has been campaigning throughout the expansive district since launching his bid in January.

“If [Republicans] pick the right candidate who has high name identification and the record of integrity that transcends politics, the Republicans will keep this seat,” Caputo said. “If they pick a career politician known only in one county without such a record of integrity, they still might lose this seat.”

Niagara County GOP Chairman Rich Andres also said he expected national Democrats to still target the seat, and a Republican candidate will have to make himself or herself known to the entire district in a short period of time.

“It’s going to be tough for them to get up to speed,” Andres said.

While Collins has easily been re-elected to the 27th District, he won his first race in 2012 against Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul — now New York’s lieutenant governor — by only 2 points. 

Both Andres and Livingston County GOP Chairman John Pauer said they had been fielding calls throughout Saturday morning from candidates interested in running. 

They also both noted that it was still unclear how Collins would get off the ballot.

The three avenues to remove a name from the ballot are: if the candidate dies; does not meet the basic requirements for candidacy like minimum age and residency in the state; or runs for another office and declines the nomination for the first office that candidate was seeking, according to a spokesman for the state Board of Elections

Andres was confident that Collins would take steps to remove himself from the race. In that instance, the eight county chairs would pick a nominee.

But until then, Republicans are still trying to figure out what happens next. 

“It’s very uncertain,” Pauer said.

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