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GOP hopefuls to make their case for Collins' seat in marathon meeting

Update: Radio commentator David Bellavia announced Tuesday morning he was withdrawing his name from consideration to replace Chris Collins on the November ballot.

Eleven Republicans who want to go to Congress will speak with party leaders in the 27th Congressional District in a marathon meeting at Batavia Downs on Tuesday, setting the stage for the selection of a potential nominee later this week.

The meeting will begin at 3 p.m. and continue until at least 8 p.m, party leaders said. Each candidate will get 10 minutes to speak and another 10 minutes to answer questions.

For the Republican leaders in the eight counties that include territory in the 27th District, Tuesday's meeting will be the next step in trying to find a replacement candidate for Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican from Clarence who suspended his re-election campaign three days after federal prosecutors indicted him on felony insider stock trading charges on Aug. 8.

The meeting will begin with no apparent favorite in the race, which features Buffalo developer Carl P. Paladino, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, Iraq War veteran and radio commentator David Bellavia, six state legislators and two Erie County legislators.

"Everybody's got their own opinion" on who the best candidate would be, said Richard Andres, the Republican chairman in Niagara County. "There's a lack of consensus."

One person's opinion matters more than anyone else's, though: that of Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy. That's because Erie County has, by far, more people in the 27th district than any other county, meaning Langworthy will have the largest share of the weighted vote that will chose the nominee.

Langworthy declined to comment publicly on the selection process Monday.

Meanwhile, Republican lawyers are exploring ways to get Collins' name off the ballot — which, under New York law, can be a challenge.

Republican insiders say Collins is likely to be pressed to run for another, lesser position, a move that could clear the congressional ballot for a new candidate.

"There are a few avenues that the legal team is looking at," said John Pauer, Republican chair in Livingston County.

Democrats have said, though, that they will meet any such move with a lawsuit.

The Democratic candidate for the congressional seat, Grand Island Supervisor Nate McMurray, derides the GOP plan as "the Buffalo shuffle" and contends it's not legal under state election law.

"You know, (it's) the corrupt deal to get Collins off the ballot by forcing him fraudulently into a town race and allowing him to continue to collect a salary and use donations for legal fees!" McMurray tweeted last week. 

Despite the potential difficulty of getting on the ballot, 15 people were said to have expressed interest in replacing Collins after he announced Aug. 11 that he was suspending his campaign for re-election.

Two Republicans dropped out in the past week: State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, 57, of Elma, and attorney Jim Domagalski, 53, a former Erie County Republican chairman.

Domagalski says he's out of running for Collins' Congressional seat

"After serious consideration, my current and family and professional commitments are my priority and I will therefore not be a candidate for Congress at this time," Domagalski wrote in an email to The Buffalo News on Monday.

Gallivan dropped out Friday, citing obligations to his family, his Senate constituents and Senate colleagues, which, he said "take precedent over personal ambition."

Two others said to have some interest in the post bowed out early: Andrea Bozek, 35, a political lobbyist from Clarence; and Jeffrey Freeland, 33, of Lewiston, a former Collins staffer who now serves in the White House as special assistant to the president for legislative affairs.

That leaves 11 remaining, as well as a Clarence resident who wants to add his name to the list.

Thomas Krug, 47, a businessman from Clarence, said he has been attempting to contact the GOP chairman about his interest in the Collins seat, but that Langworthy has not responded to his messages.

Krug, the former owner of Buffalo Truck Center, described himself as a moderate Republican who supports President Trump and believes he can serve the Western New York community well because he can get along with Democrats as well as Republicans. Krug said he's willing to put up $150,000 of his own money in the race.

Krug said he previously expressed interested to GOP leaders about running in the 26th Congressional District, in the seat now held by Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. Local Republican leaders — including Langworthy — thought it was a good idea, according to Krug. But Krug said he decided against running in the 26th because he does not live in that district. He lives in the 27th.

"I'm a Republican and live in Clarence, and I didn't think it was the right thing," Krug said.

Party leaders in the 27th District, however, say it would be risky to run a first-time candidate for Congress. Given that the general election is only a little more than two months away, Langworthy said last week that a first-timer would have only a short time to learn the intricacies of campaigning.

"I personally think this is not the time for a complete new candidate, someone who doesn’t understand the political process or maybe hasn’t been a part of an election before at a big-league level," Langworthy said at last week's GOP meeting in Batavia.

Besides, Langworthy said last week, there's no need for a first-time candidate.

"Elected officials certainly have name awareness, they have an understanding how campaigns are run and financed, what goes into those efforts," he said. "I think we have an embarrassment of riches of candidates."

News staff reporter Barbara O'Brien contributed to this report.

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