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With Collins out of the picture, the heat is on in the 27th District

Robert J. McCarthy

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Not in the 27th District – the most Republican congressional turf in all of New York. Chris Collins owned it since his election in 2012. He was the president’s pal. And GOP leaders could worry about other things.

All that changed Tuesday when the Clarence Republican pleaded guilty to felony counts connected to insider trading. Now, the 27th’s serenity is disrupted again, just as in 2018 when Collins’ August indictment and more-than-awkward candidacy came within a thousand votes of losing the deep red district to a little-known Democrat.

Again, Republicans face an intramural free-for-all in which the only issue is who supports President Trump the most. The field officially includes State Sens. Chris Jacobs of Buffalo (soon to be an inside-the-district Orchard Parker) and Rob Ortt of North Tonawanda, plus attorney Beth Parlato of Darien.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley of Genesee County remains interested, as does Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw. (“Interested” ranks as an inexact term for Mychajliw, who tears up the campaign trail daily as an unofficial candidate.)

Then there is David Bellavia, the Medal of Honor recipient whom most observers say overwhelmingly wins the nod of county leaders for an expected special election. But while the others scramble, Bellavia enjoys the Cowboys game in Dallas this weekend as guest of owner Jerry Jones.

State Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy last week called a time out on the escalating situation until after this year’s election. But Erie County Chairman Karl Simmeth, holding about 40% of the votes needed to nominate a special election candidate, says he wishes Bellavia would decide.

“If David makes his intentions known it will be a lot better for the entire party,” the new Erie chief said. “The last thing I want to do is lose that seat.”

Another senior Republican said county leaders would welcome a Bellavia decision soon “so we don’t have to fight.”

Jacobs, meanwhile, continues as a target for the others. Mychajliw can’t even think about Jacobs without a string of “never-Trumper” references, despite the senator’s objections. Ortt and Parlato emphasize their conservatism with the inference that Jacobs is otherwise.

Even Bellavia joined the pile-on at a Republican gathering in Geneva a few days before the Collins resignation. Several sources report he told Jacobs in a friendly speech that then-Congressman Collins would “rip your eyes out” in a primary. The crowd laughed, but the message seemed clear.

Now money enters the picture. Several candidates expressed concern last week about the role of Erin Baker. She is Langworthy’s wife and Erie County finance chairwoman. She also raises funds for Jacobs. Simmeth says he has no problem with that, even if other candidates wonder about a conflict.

Jacobs leads the pack with $773,000 in his campaign account. Parlato is pleased with her $270,000 so far. Ortt said recently he will report about $100,000.

But heavy hitters may soon barge in. The Club for Growth is studying Mychajliw and Bellavia. According to National Review, the conservative super PAC spent $23.2 million in 2017-18 congressional races with lots of success. Spokesman Joe Kildea last week said his group is evaluating NY27, with clear ideas about who it likes and who it doesn’t.

“We think Stefan Mychajliw could possibly make a good candidate but we have not made an endorsement decision as of yet,” Kildea said, noting CFG’s interest in Bellavia too. “We can say that we don’t believe State Senator Chris Jacobs is a good fit for the district to say the least. From his support of higher taxes and radical environmental handouts to his campaign with Never-Trumper Bill Weld and refusal to back President Trump in 2016, Chris Jacobs isn’t a conservative and he’s wrong for New York’s 27th Congressional District.”

Collins’ resignation sparks all of this. The GOP’s usual rainbows and lollipops could dissolve soon in a fight fueled by deep-pocketed outsiders.

Meanwhile, Bellavia enjoys the Cowboys game from the Jerry Jones box. Because he can.

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