We haven’t really had a need to revisit the story of New York GOP congressman Chris Collins since August, and I’d assumed that it was pretty much over. When we last checked in, Collins had decided to suspend his campaign following his indictment on insider trading charges and the local party leaders in his western New York district were working on a complicated plan to remove him from the ballot and field a new candidate. (No easy feat, given the Empire State’s convoluted election laws.) Everything was moving apace until yesterday when Collins threw a huge wrench into the works and announced that he was going to remain on the ballot and run for another term after all. (New York Times)
Representative Chris Collins, the New York Republican indicted on insider trading charges last month, reversed course on Monday and announced he would seek another term.
Mr. Collins opted to stay on the ballot on the advice of lawyers who said his removal — a Byzantine procedure governed by New York’s complex election laws — would most likely face a Democratic lawsuit, and would muddle the election for his replacement, ultimately leaving the Western New York seat vulnerable to Democrats.
“Because of the protracted and uncertain nature of any legal effort to replace Congressman Collins, we do not see a path allowing Congressman Collins to be replaced on the ballot,” Mark Braden, a lawyer for Mr. Collins, said in a statement.
The county GOP leaders who had been working on a strategy to deal with this situation said they’d been essentially blindsided by the announcement. Plans had been in place to have Collins run for a local town clerk office or some other, out of the way position, allowing his name to be withdrawn from the congressional race. They had interviewed more than half a dozen other aspiring Republicans who were interested in replacing him and a decision on who it would be was nearly final. But now Collins is back and apparently running.
Is this a strategic legal move? A political calculation? Possibly a bit of both. Collins and his attorney have maintained his claims of innocence and he gives every impression that he honestly believes he can beat the rap. Running for another term may be a way of swaying the court of public opinion, carrying on as if everything is normal. It’s going to be a tough row to hoe, however, because the feds seem to have a pretty solid case.
But from the political perspective, this might not be the worst thing. When the news first broke, I offered the opinion that the best thing Collins could do for the party would be to maintain his innocence, keep running, win the race in a very red district where he remains popular, and then just resign next year if he’s found guilty. That way, a special election would have to be called and the GOP would hold the seat, though it might be empty for a few months. And while the optics have deteriorated a bit, that’s still not the worst plan in the world. Collins’ Democratic opponent obviously has a lot of ammunition to work with, but as I said, this is a very conservative, GOP-friendly district. Collins is a known figure and if he makes his case to the voters in a clear voice, he could probably still squeak out another win.
Still, he probably shouldn’t be expecting too much help from the local Republican leadership. If this was going to be his play he should have made that decision immediately and stuck to it. Now he’s created all sorts of work for them, only to have it all cast aside by this last-minute switch. We’ll keep an eye on this one because I have a feeling the pollsters are going to be cranking into high gear in NY-27 this week.