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Robert McCarthy: Hochul and Collins rekindle 2012 battle

These are good days for Buffalo’s Kathy Hochul.

On Wednesday, the lieutenant governor presided over groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Explore & More Children’s Museum at Canalside before returning to Albany. Then on Thursday, she traveled back to Syracuse to promote Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s opioid abuse and college affordability programs.

On any given day, she finds herself anywhere from Ripley to Montauk. It’s what she does and she revels in it.

But throughout the recent Washington debate over the Affordable Care Act, Hochul seemed charged with new energy. Maybe because she aimed much of it at an old adversary – Rep. Chris Collins.

Hochul resurrected her rough-and-tumble congressional campaign of 2012 against Collins a few days ago. She tore into the Clarence Republican for “partisan politics” for his amendment that would have transferred upstate Medicaid costs to the state.

The plan would cost approximately $2.3 billion on top of what she pegged as another $2.4 billion as the New York cost of repeal, claiming Collins had “bribed” the state’s GOP congressional delegation.

“Collins tried to play New Yorkers for fools, and while we know he is a financial fraudster, his latest insider trading scheme backfired and didn’t outsmart the people of his state,” she fumed.

“Rep. Collins should stop prioritizing his wealthy friends and start helping his home state by protecting the most vulnerable from losing their health care and putting the state budget at risk,” she added.

It all seemed so 2012. That’s when Hochul attempted to defend the seat she won just the year before in a special election against a hard-charging Collins. The former county executive revived his old organization, dug deeply into his healthy bank account, and defeated Hochul. Barely.

A few days ago, Hochul acknowledged relishing the assignment to take on Collins and other Republican members of Congress on “my old turf.”

“It was a natural place for the governor and I to tag-team,” she said of her criticism of Collins. “His premise was fundamentally flawed and he should have known that.

“Instead of carrying water for Donald Trump, you should be a New Yorker,” she reiterated last week.

Collins, meanwhile, doesn’t hesitate to bark back – just like the old days.

Chris Grant, the congressman’s political spokesman, labels her a “puppet of the governor” who has flip-flopped on Second Amendment issues and taxes. He reiterated the Collins claim that upstaters would realize substantial property tax savings through the Medicaid switch.

“When she was a substitute congresswoman she pretended to be against high taxes,” Grant said. “Then last week she was for keeping the highest taxes in the country.”

Grant acknowledged the resurrected Hochul-Collins campaign.

“She clearly hasn’t gotten over it,” he said.

The Politics Column will not venture too far into rekindling 2012 – memorable as it was. But it’s worth noting that Cuomo sent his lieutenant governor directly into the fray, even taking the rare approach of highlighting her arguments in his own press releases.

Hochul has not backed away from her attack mode following the failure to repeal Obamacare. Last week, she was still shooting at Collins and other New York Republicans.

“If that’s what they want to focus their energy on instead of creating jobs … and continuing down this path that harms New Yorkers,” she said, “then the battle continues.

“I’ll take the gloves off any time I have to,” she added. “I’d rather work collaboratively with people. But the bottom line is: Don’t mess with people in our state.”

The speculators often wonder whether Hochul might someday return to Congress or seek some other office. Anything can happen, but the lieutenant governor clearly relishes her current role – especially when it involves blasting Republican members of Congress.

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