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In scramble to replace Chris Collins, GOP delves into 'deep bench'

Republican prospects who might replace Chris Collins in the contest for New York's 27th Congressional District for the most part kept quiet Sunday as GOP chairs from the eight counties that make up district prepare to meet early this week to discuss how to get Collins' name off the ballot and pick a replacement.

Assemblyman Raymond W. Walter, R-Amherst, is among the many candidates for the seat and said it was important for the party to coalesce around the strongest contender.

"There's no reason why we shouldn't hold the seat, and it would be very calamitous if we did not," Walter said. The district, which covers suburban and rural communities between Buffalo and Rochester, is the most Republican in the state and far more conservative than the typical congressional district nationally.

My statement on #NY27 pic.twitter.com/1sYIKaDBqk

— Ray Walter (@RaymondWWalter) August 11, 2018

Democrat Nate McMurray, the Grand Island supervisor, earlier this year launched an underdog challenge to the well-funded incumbent, a race upended by last week's indictment of the Collins on federal insider trading counts. The Clarence Republican announced Saturday that he was suspending his campaign for re-election.

Republicans have tried to tag McMurray as a left-wing candidate in the mold of Nancy Pelosi. Stefan Mychajliw, the Erie County comptroller and a contender for Collins' seat, said Saturday that McMurray has "radical views" and would vote to impeach the president.

Mychajliw is one of more than a dozen potential GOP challengers whose names have surfaced since Saturday. He announced his intention to join the race a little more than an hour after Collins stepped out of it, and had his chance to be heard by a national audience in a Sunday interview on CNN.

He proclaimed his support for the NRA and tax cuts, as well as his commitment to pro-life positions. He also aligned himself with the president, saying, "I wholeheartedly support President Trump, and I'm going to be his biggest champion on Capitol Hill."

McMurray touts centrist views, blasts GOP as Republicans seek Collins replacement

Republicans in the district are working to find a new opponent for McMurray, a process that could face election law hurdles this close to the November election. Erie County GOP Chair Nicholas Langworthy said Saturday he wants to wrap up the process of removing Collins from the ballot and finding a replacement within a week or 10 days.

Saturday morning's announcement by Collins set off a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity as the district's Republican chairs plan to meet to figure out a way forward.

Walter said he reached out to as many of the county chairs as he could over the weekend, and imagines every serious candidate did the same.

Erie County Legislator Edward A. Rath III also threw his hat into the ring after getting the OK from his family and receiving the support of his donors.

"It is a truncated process that is very unusual," said Rath, who said he is aggressively pursuing the opportunity and has reached out by phone and email to all eight county chairs.

His district covers Amherst, Clarence, Akron and Newstead, a mix of suburban and rural communities that he said mirror and overlap with the 27th congressional district.

Rath lives 1 mile outside the 27th, but said he would move into the district after the election as required by law.

It's not clear when and where Republicans will hold their first meeting. Joseph Heins, the Amherst Republican chair, said he's not surprised so many of the people viewed as contenders for the seat are current elected officials, given the importance of name recognition, campaign infrastructure and fundraising in this shortened campaign.

"I think what we've seen is a fantastic slate of candidates that have put their names forward or been mentioned," Heins said, calling it a sign of the GOP's "deep bench."

He said the county chairs will move swiftly but still give every candidate "a chance to be heard."

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