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Six weeks after indictment, Collins returns to campaign trail

Rep. Chris Collins returned to the campaign trail last weekend despite the criminal indictment hanging over his head – and amid a lingering controversy over his first television ad.

Collins attended the Ontario County Republican Committee's second annual Constitution Day Dinner in Geneva on Friday, as well as the Newstead GOP Sportsman Extravaganza a day later.

"It's great to be back on the campaign trail meeting with constituents across NY-27," Collins, a Clarence Republican, said on Twitter. "Voters have a clear choice in November. We must keep this seat in Republican hands to continue advancing President Trump's America-first agenda."

Collins' Democratic opponent, Grand Island Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray, was less than impressed with Collins' re-emergence.

"I'm glad he's out in the public, because that's part of being a public servant," McMurray said. "But it's too little too late. We've been all across the district since it was freezing cold outside, meeting with anyone who would meet with us."

Collins resumed campaigning four days after reversing himself and announcing that he would remain on the ballot in November. His return to the trail came six weeks and two days after prosecutors in New York charged him with fraud, conspiracy and lying to a federal agent in connection with an alleged insider trading scheme. He has asserted his innocence and has vowed to fight the federal charges.

Republican Chris Collins pictured Tuesday night at the Planing Mill in Buffalo, left, and Democrat Nate McMurray pictured Tuesday night at his campaign headquarters in Hamburg. (Derek Gee and Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

The Collins campaign rollout took place at friendly venues: Republican events where he would be less likely to encounter anyone challenging him about his arrest last month.

The crowd of 300 or so that attended the Ontario County GOP dinner greeted Collins warmly, said Trisha Turner, the county GOP chair.

"He spoke about the reasons that it's important for us to hold onto this seat," said Turner, who noted that the 27th District is heavily Republican and that it's essential that a Republican win the seat because the party is fighting to maintain control of the House of Representatives.

Collins suspended his campaign on Aug. 11, three days after his indictment, and that prompted the eight GOP county chairs in the district to begin searching for a replacement.

Collins' lawyers announced on Sept. 17, though, that they saw no way to remove him from the ballot, prompting the third-term lawmaker to re-enter the race.

But that didn't stop two of the Republicans who auditioned to replace Collins on the ballot – Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw and state Sen. Robert Ortt of North Tonawanda – from attending the Ontario County dinner, too.

A much smaller crowd greeted Collins in Newstead, at an event that gave him the opportunity to attack McMurray on gun control.

"Our opponent will side with Nancy Pelosi and liberal Democrats to strip away our Second Amendment rights and stop President Trump's agenda," Collins tweeted. "We won't let that happen."

McMurray has said, though, that he will not support Pelosi, the current Democratic leader in the House, for House speaker.

The Democratic candidate also went out of his way over the weekend to stress that he's not against the Second Amendment. McMurray, who supports universal background checks and a ban on "bump stocks," but who backs the right to keep and bear arms, went skeet shooting at a firing range and tweeted about it.

"I'm not anti-gun," McMurray said in an interview, in which he added that he goes skeet shooting occasionally but does not hunt or have a handgun license.

He also railed against the "bigotry" of Collins' first ad, which featured a video of McMurray speaking in Korean about peace on the Korean peninsula – with subtitles accusing the Democrat of shipping jobs overseas while working as a lawyer in Seoul.

Both WGRZ and WIVB, which ran those ads, offered fact checks that labeled the Collins ad "misleading," while The Buffalo News said the ad distorted McMurray's Korean ties.

Two Asian-American civil rights groups Monday eviscerated the ad in emails to The Buffalo News.

“It is truly disturbing to see a political ad like this where its intent is to clearly use the myth of Asians as perpetual foreigners as a way to raise fear and concern,” said Terry Ao Minnis, director of census and voting programs at Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

Sam Yoon, executive director of Korean Americans in Action, said he was confused by the ad's implied – and incorrect – translation of McMurray's words and dismayed that the ad portrayed McMurray's interest in Korea as anti-American.

"Protectionism is a legitimate political issue but xenophobia does lead to racism," Yoon said. "I would say this ad lies right on the border between the two."

Asked for comment, Collins campaign spokeswoman Natalie Baldassarre did not address the criticism of the ad and instead issued a statement repeating the campaign's attacks on McMurray's work in South Korea and his stances on health care and the Second Amendment.

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