ALBANY – With Democrats angling to take over control of the state Senate in the fall elections, considerable worries are being expressed by some Republican insiders that a GOP senator in a relatively safe seat could be tapped as a congressional replacement candidate for indicted Rep. Chris Collins.
“Why take a chance?’’ said one Republican insider.
The chance, Republicans in Albany and elsewhere say, is that GOP leaders from eight Western New York counties in the 27th Congressional District might make a decision that somehow puts in play in November one of the region's Senate seats now held by a Republican.
Three Republican state senators – Chris Jacobs from Buffalo, Robert Ortt from North Tonawanda and Michael Ranzenhofer from Amherst – are among the names in the mix as possible GOP replacement candidates for Collins, who was recently indicted in a federal insider trading case.
Sen. Patrick Gallivan, an Elma Republican, on Friday took himself out of the running, partly citing a commitment to constituents to remain as a senator representing their interests in Albany.
A Republican with knowledge of the matter said the internal political equation of the state Senate has been a topic of talks between Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Erie County GOP Chairman Nicholas Langworthy, who holds the largest share of the weighted vote for a new congressional candidate that will be cast among the eight county Republican leaders possibly as early as this week.
The Republican, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Flanagan and Langworthy agreed that any action by the eight county GOP leaders should not negatively affect the prospects that Republicans keep control of existing Senate seats in Western New York.
The concern comes as Republicans and Democrats are in a pitched battle for control of the 63-member Senate, which has been dominated by the GOP for more than half a century. The Republicans enjoy a slim, one-vote majority, but only because of a power-sharing deal with Sen. Simcha Felder, a conservative, breakaway Democrat from Brooklyn.
The Senate campaign battlegrounds are, however, far from Western New York, as Republicans and Democrats will be fighting most heavily – and with the most financial resources – over seats on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley.
The campaigns for seats held by Jacobs and Ranzenhofer, however, have not been designated by insiders as leaning to the GOP incumbents getting re-elected.
Jacobs and Ranzenhofer won their 2016 elections handily, though they are both in districts with more Democrats than Republicans. Of the three, only the Ortt seat has a Republican voter enrollment edge over Democrats; in a district with 131,000 registered voters, there are 735 more Republicans than Democrats in the Ortt district.
Ortt, who has been actively meeting with Republican leaders to get backing for a congressional run, faces no Democrat opponent in the fall. Republicans believe if Ortt gets the nod, they can tap a replacement candidate for his state Senate line and that person would run unopposed.
Niagara County Republican Party Chairman Richard Andres recently said he was not concerned about getting a strong replacement for Ortt should the senator run for Congress, saying the county GOP has a "deep bench" of possible legislative candidates.
Still, there is a worry about bringing any uncertainty if one of the incumbent senators are tapped by Republican leaders as a Collins replacement candidate. “We don’t want to have to worry about those Western New York seats,’’ another GOP official said.
Michael Long, chairman of the small but influential state Conservative Party, openly voiced concern about a senator from Western New York getting the backing to run for the Collins seat. Jacobs, Ortt and Ranzenhofer all are on the ballot to run on GOP and Conservative Party lines in their Senate contests.
“I clearly understand the logic of not putting another seat in jeopardy,’’ Long said of the Senate Republicans having to pay attention – and spend money – on a race in Western New York they might not otherwise be planning this year.
Long said he had a conversation with Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo. “It’s not that we’re opposed to any of the senators up there,’’ Long said of the Western New York GOP senators.
“As a matter of fact, I like all the senators up there. We certainly don’t think it’s good nominating a senator (for the Collins seat). It only puts the Senate in further jeopardy,’’ Long added.
Long added, however, that the situation does offer some mixed views for him. “I don’t think it’s right to punish a senator if he or she wants to run for Congress,’’ Long said Tuesday.
When asked about the worries of some Republicans over a state senator running for the Collins seat, New York State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox on Tuesday expressed a central theme of the GOP this year. “The most important thing we can for New York State is to keep the state Senate in Republican hands,’’ Cox said.
But Cox said he is OK if the eight county GOP leaders in the 27th District tap a GOP senator for the congressional race and a strong replacement candidate can be tapped to seek their Senate seat. “If a senator steps up and there’s a good underlying Assembly member, that’s okay,’’ said Cox, quickly adding that he was not saying such a scenario necessarily exists. (There has been talk of Ranzenhofer seeking the congressional seat and Assemblyman Ray Walter, an Amherst Republican, then running for his Senate post.)
“We have terrific leaders in the eight counties involved. They can measure it and I’m sure they will make a good decision,’’ Cox said.
“Just because a senator steps up to run (for Congress), if he has a good person running under him for that Senate seat, yes, you’re taking a chance … but sometimes you have to do that so young people can run and you can have some fresh blood,’’ Cox added.