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Collins fares well in poll despite charges

A new poll in the 27th Congressional District shows 60% of Republican primary voters view incumbent Chris Collins favorably, even while under federal indictment for insider trading.

The independent survey arrives as the four-term incumbent promises to decide over the next few months whether to run for  re-election in 2020. The numbers also reflect the ultra-Republican district's support for President Trump, who logs favorable ratings of 81% in the poll of 500 Republicans who have recently voted in a primary or presidential election.

Even veteran pollster Barry Zeplowitz of Tel Opinion Research, who conducted the survey, acknowledges the individual candidate matchups he tested mean little at this point. Rather, the poll’s key finding, he said, is Collins’ strength while under a legal cloud. And he said that however the contest unfolds following Collins’ February trial, and whoever emerges as candidates in an expected June primary, the most ardent Trump supporter will probably win.

“Sixty-nine percent are more likely to vote for the person most supporting Trump,” he said. “The 800-pound gorilla in the room is the president.

“Anybody who is endorsed by the president gets a great big lift,” he added.

Zeplowitz conducted the poll on July 31 and Aug. 1 on behalf of no candidate or interest in the campaign, explaining he often asks his Buffalo-based staff to test interesting subjects during down time. He emphasized that while he offered several names to respondents, the poll provides only an early “snapshot” and that a host of factors and events can change the election’s course.

Still, he remains convinced that loyalty to Trump and his agenda will dominate the race in New York’s most Republican congressional district. And because Collins emerged as the first member of Congress to support Trump’s 2016 candidacy while remaining a vocal champion of his agenda since then, the congressman remains a force – even as he faces charges of helping others dump stock after receiving negative, inside information.

“Ten months out, Collins is still viable,” Zeplowitz said.

Collins said the poll results back up his recent claims of accomplishment.

“While polls really don’t matter to me, this does confirm that voters appreciate my effectiveness in Washington and the job I’m doing every day as their member of Congress,” he said. “My constituents can be assured that I will continue to work harder than ever on their behalf.”

Zeplowitz also tested several announced and unannounced candidates in his survey as some roll out their campaigns and others remain watching from the sidelines. They include the announced – State Sen. Christopher L. Jacobs and Darien attorney Beth A. Parlato. Potential candidates include Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr., Assemblyman Stephen Hawley of Genesee County, State Sen. Robert G. Ortt of North Tonawanda and Medal of Honor recipient David G. Bellavia (who lost to Collins in the 2012 primary).

Bellavia has never expressed any strong interest in again running for the House of Representatives, insisting since Trump awarded him the medal for heroism in Iraq that he is committed – at least for now – to public relations appearances for the Army. Still, Zeplowitz acknowledged that a campaign appeal featuring images of the popular-in-the-district president draping the nation’s highest military decoration around Bellavia’s neck would prove powerful.

Bellavia scored a 58% approval rating and 4% unfavorable rating in the poll.

“He’s liked across the entire district, is over 60% in Erie County, and 55% or over in most of the others,” he said. “Right now, he has the best favorable numbers of anyone we test in this survey [besides Collins].”

Other notable results of the survey include:

• If Collins runs, at this early point he rolls over his announced opponents. He scores 46% to 26% against Jacobs, with 4% for Parlato and the remainder unsure.

• If Collins does not run, Bellavia emerges as the strongest candidate at 33%, followed by Jacobs at 24%, Mychajliw at 6%, Hawley and Ortt at 5% each, and Parlato at 2%.

• In a smaller field without Collins, Bellavia comes in at 41%, Jacobs 27% and Parlato at 6%. In another matchup, Jacobs wins with 39%, Mychajliw at 16% and Parlato at 6%.

• Voters also told Tel Opinion that if Trump were to publicly support a candidate, they are 69% more likely to vote for the president’s choice. And at this point, in a scenario with Collins not running, Bellavia is seen as the candidate most likely to support the Trump agenda at 32%, while 18% think Jacobs is least likely to support Trump, the most of any other candidate.

• Though he did not test a Mychajliw-Jacobs single pairing, Zeplowitz said it would become a “war” over who is the strongest Trump supporter.

None of the announced or potential candidates are putting much stock in a poll surrounded by so many question marks. They point out that Collins anticipates making no re-election decisions until late this year, while it remains unclear which candidates will actually enter a race more than 10 months in the future.

Parlato said she only officially announced within the past few days and labeled the poll “obviously premature.”

“It means absolutely nothing at this point,” she said. “We don’t even know what the field will look like.”

But Parlato noted an enthusiastic response to her announcement and promised she will rank much higher in the polls once she is able to spread her conservative message.

Mychajliw, meanwhile, said he was encouraged by the results, but directed most of his remarks toward Jacobs.

“Chris Jacobs is a never-Trumper whose liberal attitudes would do very well in Brian Higgins’ district,” he said of the Democrat representing the neighboring district. “He would be smart to run again for the Senate or take on Brian Higgins.”

Zeplowitz said he worked 15 years as pollster for Jacobs, but they no longer have a professional relationship.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5%.

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