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Politics Column

In New York's 27th District, looking ahead to 2022

Robert J. McCarthy

For the Republican wannabes looking to succeed Chris Collins in the 27th Congressional District, these are busy days.

Announced candidates Chris Jacobs and Rob Ortt along with potential candidate Steve Hawley attended Wednesday night’s meeting in Corfu to hear area vets lambaste continuing delays for the town’s new national veterans cemetery, sources report. That’s a good thing. Potential candidates for the district should be interested.

But mostly, the officially announced are raising money. Before the eight county chairmen of the 27th District choose a special election candidate in early 2020, campaign funds brought to the table will weigh heavily in their decision.

On that score, it will be hard to argue with Jacobs, the state senator from Buffalo. Last week he reported raising more than $1 million, with about $850,000 on hand. When you’re talking seven figures at this early juncture, GOP leaders start paying attention.

“In just over four months, we’ve raised more than $1 million from more than 400 individuals to keep this seat in Republican hands and ensure President Trump has an ally in Western New York,” Jacobs said. “Given the uncertainty surrounding this election, it’s critical that Republicans have a nominee with the resources necessary to win on any day and under any circumstances.”

Jacobs carefully crafted his press release. He told the world that between his own considerable resources and small donors, no other potential candidate comes close. In addition, he shouts his allegiance to the embattled president to stave off attacks of rivals who claim he isn’t loud enough.

Indeed, Jacobs is working hard to earn his “always Trumper” merit badge. The senator scored even more Brownie points last week by authoring an “Another Voice” column for The Buffalo News, praising Trump’s NAFTA replacement and blasting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for failing to schedule a vote on the new pact.

Another candidate – attorney Beth Parlato of Genesee County – has not raised dollars of Jacobsesque proportions. Still, Parlato last week reported $270,000 from local supporters without yet working her national conservative contacts.

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, meanwhile, continues watching from the sidelines as potential rivals fill their coffers. He vows to avoid the race until Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia makes up his mind. But big time funding groups like the Club for Growth show interest in Mychajliw, as well as Bellavia.

All of this is necessary for a special election nomination set for early in the new year. Some chairmen, like Erie’s Karl Simmeth, are looking ahead. They know that 2020 looms as the last election for the 27th District as we know it ‑ overwhelmingly Republican and pro-Trump. The new all-Democratic State Legislature will have no interest in preserving such a seat when the 2020 census brings reapportionment. Veteran observers say the process could leave Western New York without a Republican congressman for the first time in anyone’s memory.

“It’s not only about this election, it’s about what’s down the road,” Simmeth said a few days ago. “I need somebody to appeal to both sides of the aisle.”

Simmeth, who controls about 40% of the 27th’s nominating vote, recognizes the district will be disassembled for the 2022 election. Albany Dems will make it much more competitive, and the constant pro-Trump drumbeat may fall flat in the more purple turf of 2022.

The new Erie chairman says he has no dog in this hunt. But his thinking encompasses the long term, maybe recognizing the eventual need for a candidate off the spectrum’s far right. In addition, his finance chairwoman, Erin Baker, is raising funds for Jacobs. She just happens to be married to state GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy. And Simmeth and Langworthy share an office rented from Jacobs.

The Collins resignation leaves lots to ponder for Simmeth and his county leader colleagues. They wait for Bellavia to inject some certainty to the contest, while weighing the short term versus the decade of the 2020s.

Thank you, Chris Collins.

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