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First Democrat to announce bid against Collins withdraws from race

WASHINGTON – Erin Cole, an Army veteran and former state and federal official who two months ago became the first Democrat to announce plans to challenge Rep. Chris Collins next year, withdrew from the race Monday.

Cole announced her withdrawal in a press release, saying: "After exploring this race for the last two months, I have decided to end my campaign. I will support a strong Democratic challenge to Collins while continuing my work promoting economic development and supporting fellow veterans."

Cole didn't return a phone call seeking comment. Other Democratic sources said was she frustrated with fundraising and other challenges that often trouble first-time political candidates.

"What I'm gathering is that jumping in the deep end can be difficult for first-time candidates, and she just concluded that the race was not for her," said Judith Hunter, the Livingston County Democratic chair who also chairs  Turn 27 Blue, a coalition of county Democratic leaders and progressive activists who've come together to try to defeat Collins, a Clarence Republican.

Cole, 46, a Lockport resident, served eight years in the Army before taking various jobs around the world for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.

Erin Cole, a U.S. Army veteran and trade advocate from Lockport.

Most recently, she served as senior vice president of Global NY, an Empire State Development Corp. effort to expand exports and bring foreign investment into the state. She quit that job in order to run for Congress.

While Cole's departure from the race might surprise those outside Democratic circles, she was by no means guaranteed to get the party's nomination to challenge Collins.

East Aurora resident Sean Bunny, an Erie County assistant district attorney, is also considering a race against Collins, as are other Democrats, said Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner.

"We've always believed there would be multiple candidates taking the temperature of the electorate out there," Zellner said.

Collins represents the most Republican congressional district in the state, but Democrats hope that next year he will face his strongest challenge since his 2012 election to Congress.

Democratic leaders cite the House Ethics Committee's investigation of Collins' involvement with Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Austalian biotech he invested in and later touted to colleagues and Buffalo business leaders, as one reason Collins may be vulnerable.

New York's 27th district – which connects some of Buffalo's suburbs to Rochester's, with farmland between – is a tough district for Democrats, and not just because of a Republican enrollment advantage. Strong candidates in that district have to advertise in both Buffalo and Rochester media markets, making a race there expensive.

Both Hunter and Zellner said they still expected Democrats to coalesce around a strong candidate.

Collins' political adviser, Christopher M. Grant, indicated that Cole's withdrawal was a sign of both Collins' strength and Democrats' weakness.

"This is a big failure for Andrew Cuomo and the Democrats," Grant said.

"But I'm sure they will come up with another hand-picked puppet for Governor Cuomo and Nancy Pelosi's agenda," Grant added, of the House's Democratic minority leader.

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