On Monday, indicted Rep. Chris Collins (NY-27) surprised local GOP officials by reversing course and ending his efforts to be removed from the general election ballot, creating yet another unwanted situation for House Republicans in an otherwise safe Republican seat. His race against Democratic Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray moves from Likely Republican to the Lean Republican column.
In August, Collins was arrested on charges of insider trading for allegedly passing nonpublic information about an Australian biotech company's drug trials to his son in June 2017. Collins was already under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, but the post-primary indictment caused local GOP officials to search for a replacement and Democrats to sue to block Collins' removal from the ballot.
It's unclear what strategy Collins will adopt now that he's taking a 180-degree turn after announcing he would end his reelection bid last month. But there's a hopeful precedent for Republicans: GOP Rep. Michael Grimm (NY-11) ran for reelection under indictment on Staten Island in 2014, and won handily in part because he promised voters he would resign if convicted (he ultimately followed through).
New York's 27th CD takes in Buffalo's most Republican suburbs and voted for President Trump 59 percent to 35 percent in 2016. Collins, a former Erie County executive and one of the wealthiest members of Congress, became Trump's first congressional endorser in early 2016 and took 67 percent in 2016. But in his last competitive race in 2012, he only defeated Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul 51 percent to 49 percent.
McMurray had $81,000 on hand at the end of June, but Democrats have already signaled they'll get behind him financially with Collins on the ballot. Grand Island (population 20,000) isn't located in the 27th CD and Democrats were forced to settle for McMurray after Hochul declined to run, but DNC Chair Tom Perez was in Buffalo campaigning for him earlier this week.
The indictment won't prevent Collins from using his personal wealth to attack McMurray as a carpetbagger, and Collins will attempt to neutralize his legal problems by citing McMurray's use of his town email account for political purposes to equate him with Hillary Clinton. At R+11, this seat is about as GOP-leaning as the PA-18 seat Democrat Conor Lamb won in March. It's now a competitive race.
Image: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call