BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The indictment of Rep. Chris Collins on charges of insider trading, and his subsequent vow to fight to clear his name and remain on the ballot, has taken a local race of interest and given it national notoriety.
The 27th District is considered New York state's most Republican-leaning, but Jacob Neiheisel, an assistant professor of political science at the University at Buffalo, said "It's going to make November tighter, that's for sure, but it's still a very red district."
Collins remains in many ways is a local Western New York figure, first as the Erie County executive and later in Congress, but has gone toe-to-toe with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and was an early and eager supporter of President Donald Trump, becoming the first sitting member of Congress to back his candidacy.
Collins faces Grand Island Supervisor Nate McMurray, but even considering the circumstances, the seat was not necessarily considered a competitive one for a Democratic candidate, even with its incumbent under indictment, given its Republican enrollment advantage.
Should Collins win, Neiheisel says he could then face removal, but that would require the backing of 2/3rds of fellow House members. A censure, which is a formal, procedural vote of disapproval, is more likely.
Collins won the congressional seat in the 2012 election, unseating Rep. Kathy Hochul, now the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor. Hochul had initially won her seat in a 2011 special election, defeating Republican Jane Corwin in a race that in large part hinged on Rep. Paul Ryan’s austerity budget proposal.
Collins' win in the newly-reshaped-to-red district was still somewhat of a political comeback: He had been previously unseated by Democrat Mark Poloncarz in the Erie County executive’s race. During his single term as the county executive, Collins was considered a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2010, but talk of a campaign was dropped after he compared the then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to Adolf Hitler.
In Congress, Collins has battled with Cuomo, who has railed against the lawmaker’s support for a cap on state and local tax deductions in the tax law that passed last year and his support for shifting the burden of Medicaid spending from county governments to the state.
Hochul, meanwhile, had been nudged this year by Democrats to run against Collins in a rematch but declined. Instead, she faces a competitive primary against Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn councilman.