Western New York Republicans are pondering their options for finding a new candidate, now that federal insider trading charges have led Rep. Chris Collins to suspend his campaign for re-election.
Just last week, Collins said his criminal charges would not keep him from running against Democrat Nate McMurray.
“As I fight to clear my name, rest assured, I will continue to work hard for the people and constituents of the 27th Congressional district of New York," Collins said, "and I will remain on the ballot, running for re-election this November.”
He now says after "extensive discussions" with his family and friends, he will step aside after finishing the remaining months of his current term.
Several Republicans have expressed interest in replacing Collins on the ballot. They include Buffalo developer and former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, Assemblymember Ray Walter (R-Williamsville), radio host David Bellavia and Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, who said his previous elections in Erie County make him a strong candidate.
“I feel very strongly that I’m the Republican with the best shot of beating back this liberal extremist," Mychajliw said. "It’s going to be a war and it’s going to be a battle."
When can that battle begin?
Erie County Republican Election Commissioner Ralph Mohr told WBFO, the fact that Collins has suspended his campaign does nothing for the ballot. Resigning would not change things either.
What would need to happen for Collins to be replaced on the ballot?
“The only method by which he would be able to be removed from the ballot would be by death," Mohr said, "which I’m sure is not an option he looks forward to - or a nomination to a subsequent office."
A spokesman for the state board of elections told NPR that Collins could drop off the ballot by moving out of state, but Mohr said a recent court case casts doubt on that.
“The qualifications for a federal office for Congressman are that you have to be a resident for the state at the time of the election and throughout your term of office," he said. "The difficulty that Congressman Collins would have if he were to move out of state is that there would be no guarantee that he could not return on election day and become a resident then.”
Collins could be replaced on the ballot if he filled a vacancy elsewhere, Mohr said.
One option could be for GOP officials to ask a town justice to step aside. Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy said he is confident they can find a way to replace Collins after the upcoming primary.
“Whatever candidate that we can coalesce around, build consensus within the eight counties on, will win this race and we need that to be the case," Langworthy said. "This is a fresh start for the district.”
Collins’ legal issues have given Democrat Nate McMurray a better chance to win in a district that has voted heavily Republican the past two elections. McMurray said Collins was winning in landslides because the system is broken.
“We’re supposed to make sure every Democrat hates every Republican, but is that working for our country?" McMurray asked. "And every Republican is supposed to hate every Democrat. Is that making sense on the ground level? What I want to do is flip it. I want to talk about issues.”
McMurray said if Collins is suspending his campaign, he should not remain in office.
“He’s collecting a paycheck. He’s collecting a pension from this,” said McMurray. “He needs to resign. It’s amazing to me the Republican party hasn’t said in unison 'resign.'”
What was once perceived to be a shoe-in election for Chris Collins has now become another challenge for Republicans this November.