WASHINGTON – Rep. Chris Collins appears to have won his bid for re-election, but he finished third in a more ignoble contest: The battle of the indicted.
Voters in New York, California and New Jersey on Tuesday all re-elected lawmakers who have faced federal criminal charges. But Collins, a Clarence Republican who is charged with felony insider trading, had by far the narrowest win.
Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who survived federal corruption charges after a trial ended in a hung jury and the government dropped its case against him, defeated his Republican opponent by 9.6 percentage points.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who faces a 60-count federal indictment charging that he was using campaign funds for personal purposes, defeated his Democratic opponent by 8.6 points in a conservative district in the southern part of the state.
But Collins leads by only 2,692 votes, or 1 percent, in his race against Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray, a Democrat.
In August, federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged Collins with 11 counts of fraud, conspiracy and lying to an FBI agent. They say that in June 2017, while at a picnic at the White House, Collins unleashed a series of insider stock trades in a call to his son Cameron, who, according to the indictment, then spread the secret information to his future father-in-law, Stephen Zarsky.
Collins, his son and Zarsky all face similar charges, and criminal defense lawyers say it could result in a prison term of eight years or more for the Clarence Republican who has represented New York's 27th district in the House since 2013.
It's no surprise that Menendez won re-election in heavily Democratic New Jersey, given that the criminal case against him had been dismissed, said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen and one of several people who filed complaints against Collins with the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Holman had expected the publicized and recent charges against Collins and Hunter to derail their election efforts, but they both serve highly Republican congressional districts, and that appeared to save them in the end.
"I can only attribute it to the fact that people were more focused on national issues" rather than the charges against their own lawmakers, Holman said.
Speaking to reporters on Election Night, Collins said he expects to return to Washington to do his job with little distraction from the indictment. His criminal trial is set for February 2020.
"I clearly expect to be exonerated," he said. "That comes in 2020. That's a very long ways away. I've always said I am innocent of the meritless charges that were lodged. I will have my day in court."