For Republicans in the 27th Congressional District, next year’s campaign for the seat held by Rep. Chris Collins might as well be underway.
Two candidates have already declared, and are aggressively raising campaign funds. Others are expected to follow soon.
And the primary is already assuming an unprecedented intensity for a local GOP congressional contest.
But Collins said Tuesday he is in “no rush” to decide his political future, even as his pending trial for insider trading charges looms as the overarching issue of the budding campaign.
“It’s still July of 2019; the primary is not until June 2020. That’s still 11 months away,” he told reporters on Grand Island during a rare news conference. “Let’s just say Chris Jacobs stirred the pot a little early.”
The congressman was referring to one of two declared Republican candidates for his seat, State Sen. Christopher L. Jacobs of Buffalo, who was the first to announce and whom Collins continually labels a “never Trumper” lacking the conservative credentials to represent the district.
And he called “laughable” the suggestion he would run for re-election as a bargaining chip with federal prosecutors.
“I am innocent of the charges,” Collins said, reiterating the position he has held from his indictment almost one year ago. “Why would I ever even enter a plea deal? I’m innocent.”
He called it a “circumstantial case” that prosecutors through “some tunnel vision decided to take.”
“I’m quite comfortable where I’ll be at the end of all this, which is not guilty,” Collins said.
Despite a barrage of outside pressures, Collins used the Tuesday news conference to outline his position for the immediate future: he may very well run for a fifth term despite his legal difficulties, he has replenished his campaign fund with $500,000 of his own money and he has a record that merits re-election.
Though some call on him to decide one way or another to clarify the situation, Collins said he may not decide until late this year. If he decides to run, he said his message is “simple” in a race in which each Republican will try to “out-Trump” the other.
“I do have the No. 1 voting record of any member of Congress in support of President Trump’s agenda,” he said. “Certainly my success in getting individuals I have recommended nominated and confirmed is very important.
“My effectiveness cannot be questioned,” he added. “So when it comes time to run I’ll be pointing that out.”
Collins was stripped of his House committee assignments following the indictment a year ago. But he said he remains more influential than any other local congressman because of his close relationship with the White House following his early support for Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“The administration is still only a phone call away,” he said.
As he has since his first congressional campaign against Democrat John J. LaFalce in 1998, Collins said his $500,000 contribution to the campaign fund underscores his ability to disseminate any campaign message that may develop. Throughout the Tuesday meeting with reporters, the congressman aimed most of his political fire at Jacobs, continually using the “never-Trumper” term that paints the state senator as not conservative enough for the state’s most Republican congressional district.
Jacobs did not directly answer a question about Collins’ intentions on Tuesday, but did emphasize his own conservatism.
“Mr. Collins needs to make his own decision, but I’m running for Congress because our community needs a fighter for small businesses who can be effective and help President Trump enact better trade deals and stop the illegal immigration crisis,” he said. “I don’t just talk about conservative principles, I fought for them in Albany and as county clerk drove efficiencies that saved taxpayers money, cut fees and defended the Second Amendment.”
Meanwhile, new state GOP Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy on Monday noted the campaign appears to be unfolding without any Collins decision.
“This process is moving forward clearly, except for the No. 1 candidate [Collins],” said Langworthy, who is also the Erie County Republican chairman. “I’m not hearing anyone say their plans are contingent on what Chris Collins does.”
Collins on his opponents
For the first time in the campaign, Collins assessed a field of potential opponents, offering a quick primer on each:
• Jacobs: “Someone like Chris Jacobs has no business running in NY-27. He’s a never-Trumper. He should be running against Brian Higgins.
“My calculus is he jumped in with a lot of family money and tried to scare everyone else out.”
• Democrat Nathan McMurray, his 2018 general election opponent: “Nate McMurray looks like he’s going to run again, but he’s gone off the left end of the cliff.
“He’s all-in on the Green New Deal. He’s all-in on taking away health insurance from 180 million Americans. He did not beat me when, thanks to The Buffalo News, I had a lot of black clouds swirling around. I think he’ll be the candidate because most others think this is a Republican seat.”
• Beth Parlato, the newly declared Republican espousing a host of conservative positions: “Beth Parlato just stepped in; she is very conservative.
“Beth Parlato has not been scared out, now that she’s all-in, we may see two or three more come in. The more the merrier. This is America.”
• David Bellavia, the recent Medal of Honor recipient: “David is also a very close friend. Remember that when I beat him in a very nasty, hard fought primary in 2012 he immediately endorsed me. We’ve become even closer over the past few years.”
• Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr., the Erie County comptroller who was a strong Collins supporter in 2018 and my prove reticent to join the field while Collins remains a candidate: “If someone else has an interest in the seat, they’ll have to make their own decisions on what they’ll do. Stefan and I are very close friends.”
Langworthy said he is encouraging all candidates to pursue the nomination if they want.
“It’s a healthy process,” he said. “If someone gets nasty, I have the ability to referee to some extent.”