Picking a candidate to replace indicted Rep. Chris Collins on the ballot is proving to be bit of a puzzle for Republican leaders.
In addition to how to get Collins off the Congressional line, there's also the challenge of replacing Collins in the 27th District race without losing any other Republican seats in the process.
With GOP party chairs from the eight counties comprising the 27th expected to interview potential Congressional candidates Tuesday, speculation is growing in political circles over how it can all be done.
“We’ll consider candidates and their ability to have name awareness around the district, have a track record that makes them an attractive portion of the ticket,” Erie County GOP Chairman Nicholas Langworthy said.
Here are some possible scenarios based on interviews with a dozen Republican insiders, including county chairs, elected officials and political consultants:
The triple play
A leading scenario in recent days has focused on Michael Ranzenhofer, 63, an attorney from Amherst, serving his fifth term in the State Senate, getting the nod to run for the Congressional seat. His 61st State Senate district includes Amherst, Clarence, Newstead, parts of Monroe County and Genesee County – much of which is in the 27th Congressional District.
Some political insiders are speculating that Assemblyman Ray Walter of Amherst would then run for Ranzenhofer's Senate seat, and perhaps Erie County Legislator Ed Rath would run for the Assembly seat that would then open up.
As of Friday, Walter said he hasn't been approached with the scenario, and others say it may all be too risky since Walter is facing a tough Assembly race against a Democratic opponent in a district that has a few thousand more Democrats than Republicans.
Other likely front-runners
State Sen. Robert Ortt, 39, of North Tonawanda, has been rising in standing since making an appearance before the Livingston County GOP committee earlier in the week.
He's a former military man and bronze-star winner who is viewed as someone who fought back against the Democratic establishment in Albany – and won. It happened when former state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed corruption charges against Ortt dating back to when he served as North Tonawanda mayor. A judge last year dismissed the charges, saying they were without merit.
County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, 44, remains a name out in front, given his high name recognition and strong ability to raise money. He was the first to publicly announce his interest for the job.
On the flip side, Mychajliw's ascension to Congress would short-circuit plans he's already hinted at – to challenge Democratic County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz next year – and many Republicans are loath to lose him as a candidate for that seat.
Developer Carl Paladino is among the oldest and most controversial of the potential candidates. He's 71. He's made comments – which he later apologized for – about former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, that were condemned as racist. Paladino also been kicked off the Buffalo School Board for publicly disclosing information discussed in a closed session.
But Paladino is also a former gubernatorial candidate who served as co-chairman of Donald Trump's presidential campaign in New York State. He has a strong following among local GOP leaders and is a major financial contributor to the party. If the White House wants Paladino to be the candidate, he will be, one source familiar with the process said. The White House has not contacted county leaders, two county chairmen said.
Radio commentator David Bellavia, 42, and Assemblyman David DiPietro, 58, are also viewed as further to the right than some of the other candidates. Given that, Bellavia and DiPietro may be largely in Paladino's shadow.
Too big a leap?
Assemblymen Ray Walter, 46, of Amherst, and Stephen Hawley, 71, of Batavia, are actively running, but going from the Assembly to Congress, some say, could be too big a leap.
In addition, some say Walter – who represents an Assembly district with more Democrats than Republicans – may be too moderate for the 27th Congressional District. Others, however, say his criticism of Gov. Andrew Cuomo is viewed as a plus.
Hawley, meanwhile, is said to be very popular in his district, which covers Genesee and Orleans counties, and parts of Monroe. He's not very well known in Erie County, which makes up about half of the 27th voter base. There's also some talk that GOP leaders may be looking for a younger candidate who will stay in the seat long enough to build up seniority.
Not looking good
State Sen. Chris Jacobs, 51, is very interested, but even those who say he'd be a good congressman say it's unlikely Republican leaders will pick him this time around. That's because they don't want to chance losing his State Senate seat, which has gone to Democrats in the past.
With Senate Republicans holding a one-vote majority in the State Senate, GOP leaders aren't looking to put anyone on the 60th Senate ballot but Jacobs.
Not getting as much buzz
If going from the Assembly to Congress is viewed as a big leap, going from the Erie County Legislature becomes even a bigger jump. That could be why the candidacies of Edward Rath III and Lynne Dixon haven't seemed to have gained as much traction.
Rath, 51, of Amherst, has been actively seeking support and preparing to run.
Dixon, 53, on the other hand, has been less visible. “I’m still interested,” Dixon said. “I feel honored even to have been mentioned.”
Not sure if he’s in
James Domagalski, 53, an attorney with Barclay Damon, is a former chairman of the Erie County Republican Party who has expressed interest in running but has kept a lower profile. He did not respond to messages seeking comment during the past week.
For the past week, political observers have been wondering if State Sen. Patrick Gallivan was still interested in going to Washington. Friday, the Elma Republican withdrew his name from consideration. Gallivan, 57, said in a statement that his commitments to residents of his district, his fellow senators in the Republican majority and his family “take precedent over personal ambition.”
Out before he's in
There's been chatter that Nicholas Langworthy, 37, the Erie County Republican chairman, is also interested in replacing Collins. Not true, says Langworthy. He said several people have suggested to him that he apply for the post, but he is not interested. Others say Langworthy has his eyes on the GOP state chairman post – not Congress.
Where does Collins go?
Of course, before the Republicans replace Collins with their preferred candidate, the party must find a way to get him off the ballot.
Under state law, one of the only ways to get him off the ballot would be for him to decline his nomination for the congressional race and accept the nomination for another elective office, said Ralph Mohr, an attorney who is the Republican elections commissioner in Erie County.
It’s also not easy for a candidate to step aside to make way for a Collins run – perhaps a sacrificial one.
The deadline to withdraw from races on the November ballot passed last month, Mohr said.
So where can Collins land? In one scenario, there are two positions unexpectedly up for election this fall, both in Eden. Town Clerk Mary Jo Hultquist retired in July and Assessor Sharon A. Brockman died Sunday.
Collins could be nominated to run for one of those seats. Eden does not have a residency requirement, but state Public Officers Law requires all candidates to be a resident of the district by Election Day, Mohr said.
Or Collins can run for another office that isn’t on the ballot this year, if the current officeholder resigns by Sept. 20 and Collins meets the residency requirement, Mohr said.
That’s why speculation turned to Clarence, where Collins has a home and where no Town Board, town justice or town clerk positions are up for re-election this year.
Several town officials said this week they were unaware of any such effort.
“And if they did,” Town Justice Michael Powers added, “I would tell them, categorically, ‘No.’ ”
Clarence Democrats don’t want any of the town’s elected officials to cooperate in this arrangement. They held a news conference Thursday at Town Hall to publicize their objections.
It’s not known whether Collins is amenable to these electoral exertions. “I don’t know if anybody’s talked to Collins,” Mohr said.
Democrats have already said they are likely to challenge the legality of any Collins move to another office.
“It is an interesting scenario, and it is one without clear precedent in New York,” Buffalo attorney Frank Housh, a registered Democrat, posted on his law firm’s blog.
If the Republicans' effort fails, Collins’ name would remain on the ballot.
In that case, Republicans could wage a campaign urging party members in the 27th district to vote for Collins with the understanding he would resign after the election, creating a vacancy that could be filled in a special election.
From the Republicans’ perspective, that's cleaner than trying to build a campaign around a write-in candidate with Collins still on the ballot. Asking voters to find the place to write in the correct candidate’s name requires them to go outside their comfort zone, one political consultant said.