WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence's fundraising train will barrel through Buffalo next month, and to hear political pros tell it, that's a sign of two things.
First, it's a sign that the chief beneficiary of the Pence fundraiser — Rep. Chris Collins — remains in strong standing with the Trump White House after 20 months of touting Donald Trump's candidacy and presidency in just about every media outlet that asks for comment.
And second, it's a sign that Pence is doing an above-average amount of fundraising for the Republican Party.
Pence will travel to Buffalo on Oct. 17 for a fundraiser for Collins, the Clarence Republican's political action committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, which aids GOP candidates across the country, according to a source who has seen invitations to the event, which were scheduled to be sent to likely attendees on Thursday.
The visit to Buffalo will be the first for a high-ranking member of the Trump administration. It's expected to be a luncheon event, but its location was not disclosed on the invitation.
Collins was the first member of the House to endorse Donald Trump for president in February 2016, and he's been a faithful supporter of the developer-turned-politician ever since, speaking out on behalf of the president in dozens of national television interviews.
That being the case, Pence's decision to travel to Buffalo for the event should be no surprise, said Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy.
"It demonstrates very clearly the relationship between Chris Collins and the White House," Langworthy said. "They take that relationship very seriously."
Langworthy stressed that the Collins-White House relationship is a good thing for Western New York, but it's also a good thing for Collins, who could face a tough challenge next year in New York's 27th congressional district.
The luncheon fundraiser will add to Collins' already considerable campaign war chest, which amounted to $1.1 million as of his last campaign finance report on June 30.
While Collins' district is the most heavily Republican in the state, it connects two media markets – Buffalo and Rochester – making it expensive to defend if Democrats manage to field a strong candidate.
In addition, Democrats have vowed to target to Collins, the subject of a House Ethics Committee investigation into his investment in an Australian biotech firm called Innate Immunotherapeutics.
The first Democrat to announce a campaign against Collins, former state and federal official Erin Cole, withdrew from the race earlier this month, meaning the party is still looking for viable possible candidates. Still, Langworthy said Collins has to be prepared.
"He's a bigger target now," Langworthy said.
That's one of the few things Langworthy and Jeremy Zellner, the Ere County Democratic chairman, agree about.
Vowing that Democrats will settle on a good candidate to challenge Collins, Zellner derided the Republican congressman's fundraiser with Pence.
"This is political payback, a kickback to Chris Collins for serving as Donald Trump's lap dog," Zellner said. "They are going to need every nickel they are raising."
Zellner also charged that Collins' close relationship with the Trump White House hasn't paid off in any way for the Buffalo area.
"The Republicans control the entire federal government, and they've done nothing for Western New York," Zellner said.
While it's rare for presidents and vice presidents to travel to Buffalo to raise money, it's not unprecedented. Dick Cheney, vice president for Republican President George W. Bush, traveled to Buffalo in 2003 to raise money for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.
And it's not rare at all for Pence, a former member of the House and Indiana governor, to travel the country to raise money for his fellow Republicans.
He was scheduled to visit Milwaukee Thursday for a $35,000 per couple event aimed at benefiting a joint fundraising committee raising money for Trump's re-election. He is also set to travel to California for a series of GOP fundraisers from Oct. 8-10.
And according to the Associated Press, Pence is planning "a torrent of campaign events across the county in the coming months, aiming to raise money for Trump’s re-election, reward incumbents for tough votes and help former colleagues from his 12 years in Congress."
Former Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, a Republican who chaired Vice President Dick Cheney's Buffalo fundraiser in 2013, said it's nothing unusual for vice presidents to bear an unusually large fundraising burden. Vice presidents dating at least as far back Al Gore in the late 1990s have done that, he noted.
"Pence seems to be fitting the pattern of a vice president willing to go on the road," Reynolds said.
But there's one thing unusual about Pence's fundraising.The New York Times reported last month that Pence, in a first-of-its-kind step for a first-term vice president, has set up his own fundraising committee, one that could leave him in a strong financial position if he were to run for president himself someday. The Times also described Pence as "the main conduit between the Republican donor class and the administration."
The vice president's office did not respond to a request for comment about the Buffalo fundraiser, but aides to Pence earlier dismissed speculation that Pence was building a fundraising base separate from the president's with an eye on a possible presidential race of his own in 2020.
An aide to the vice president, Marty Obst, told the Times that any thought that Pence was preparing for a 2020 race was "beyond ridiculous."