WASHINGTON – Rep. Chris Collins' next re-election campaign sprang to life Tuesday in the form of a fundraising email that attacks a fellow Republican and 2020 challenger – State Sen. Chris Jacobs of Buffalo – as a "Never-Trumper."
"President Trump deserves a real ally in the House who will fight alongside him through it all – not just when it makes sense politically," said Collins, a four-term lawmaker from Clarence. "If you stand with me, consider contributing $50, $100, $250, or more today to stop Never-Trumpers like Chris Jacobs from getting elected to Congress."
Collins, who remains under indictment on criminal insider trading charges, barely raised any money in the year's first three months, and he told the Batavia Daily News last month that he would not decide on whether to run again in 2020 until late this year or early next.
But all that appeared to change with Jacobs' announcement last week that he is entering the race for Congress from New York's 27th district, a largely rural and suburban stretch of land between Buffalo and Rochester.
"With the radical left laser-focused on resistance and obstruction, President Trump needs allies in Congress now more than ever," Collins said in the email. "Chris Jacobs may act like he’s that type of ally – but in reality, he’s a Never-Trumper who will say and do anything to get elected to his next office."
In unveiling his campaign, Jacobs focused on the criminal charges against Collins.
“It’s very important to put someone in that seat who is a strong advocate for the district,” Jacobs said. “Currently, I don’t believe he has the capacity to be effective because of the situation.”
Prosecutors accuse Collins of passing inside stock information to his son Cameron, who passed it on to Cameron Collins' prospective father-in-law, Stephen Zarsky. All three men are set to go on trial in New York next February on charges of fraud, conspiracy and lying to the FBI.
All three men say they are innocent and vow to fight the charges.
Rep. Collins, in particular, has blamed his plight on the media, and he did so again in the fundraising email.
"After I became the first member of Congress to endorse President Trump in 2016, the mainstream media and radical left did everything in their power to defeat me," Collins said. "But no matter what challenges I faced politically, my support for President Trump never wavered."
Collins then attacked Jacobs for not offering his full-throated support for Trump.
"We may not know who Jacobs voted for in 2016, but we do know he refused to support President Trump in 2016 when he was running for office in a Democrat district," Collins said in the email.
Asked about Collins' comments Tuesday morning, Jacobs said: "I support the president, I voted for the president. A major reason why I'm running is, I believe that the president needs somebody in the 27th congressional district that can really be an ally for him."
Jacobs said Republicans could lose control of the 27th district seat if Collins runs again, given the criminal case and pending House Ethics Committee and Securities and Exchange Commission cases against him. Collins narrowly defeated Democrat Nate McMurray in 2018, and McMurray has indicated his interest in running for the seat again in 2020.
Collins' fundraising email is just the latest sign that there may well be a Republican primary for the nomination in the 27th district. In addition to Collins and Jacobs, Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr. has given strong indications that he may run. Other possible candidates include State Sen. Robert Ortt of North Tonawanda, Assemblyman Stephen Hawley of Batavia, East Aurora political consultant Michael R. Caputo and Iraq War hero David Bellavia.
For now, though, Collins is directing his fire only at Jacobs. One source close to Collins said Tuesday’s email marks only the “tip of the iceberg” of criticism aimed at the senator and his “moderate” record.
The effort will portray Collins as very much in sync with Trump in the state’s most Republican congressional district, while pointing out it was only Tuesday that voters first learned of Jacob’s vote for the president in 2016. In addition, the Collins camp is expected to highlight tens of thousands of dollars that Jacobs personally donated to Democrats.
But Jacobs said a Collins victory in 2020 would be problematic.
"And with no disrespect to Chris Collins – he's done some good things in the past – but with his indictment, and the other legal problems he has, he's just not capable to fully exercise all that a congressman should have at his disposal," Jacobs said.
Jacobs said he didn't strongly proclaim his support for Trump in 2016 because he was focused on his own State Senate race rather than on Trump's bid for the presidency.
In fact, Jacobs even offered praise at the time for former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who was running for vice president on the Libertarian ticket.
"He's an incredibly bright guy with a wealth of diverse life experience," Jacobs said. "And he believes the focus of government should be about not getting involved in peoples' private lives. So I'm not surprised he's running."
Now Weld is challenging Trump for the Republican nomination, but Jacobs said he's fully behind the president – and that he will say so in his bid against Collins.
"Running for a federal seat, I'm certainly going to talk about my views on the president and my support of him and his agenda," Jacobs said. "And I will certainly be very vocal about that now."
News political reporter Robert J. McCarthy contributed to this story.