Republican Assemblyman Steve Hawley is attracting new attention as a potential compromise candidate in the 27th Congressional District to head off an internal battle almost certain to inflict deep wounds in the Western New York GOP.
Three sources with knowledge of the situation say the Genesee County political veteran has been discussing a candidacy with party leaders in recent days in the first tangible sign of his seeking the nomination for a special election anticipated on April 28.
Hawley acknowledges he has been “talking to and listening to folks across the congressional district,” but insists nothing has changed beyond his previously stated interest in the seat formerly held by Republican Chris Collins.
“I wouldn’t call it ramping up. I haven’t formed a committee and I haven’t raised any money,” he said late Tuesday. “I’m just listening more than talking.”
Still, party insiders note the significance of a major party figure who appears to be increasing his visibility in the special election process. While some say he could serve as a “bridge” candidate until new district lines are drawn for the 2022 election, others dismiss the idea.
Hawley’s new efforts also underscore the growing notion that the choice of eight county leaders for the special election may prove final, discouraging anyone else from a June Republican primary that is sure to attract national attention and possibly millions of dollars in campaign funds.
“This could be the only special election [in the nation] after impeachment,” said one source, noting the district’s intense support for President Trump despite the political challenge he now faces in Congress.
Other sources noted the possibility of Trump including the district in a post-impeachment campaign to solidify his base in ultra-friendly turf. It would be hard to campaign against the president’s choice, one person close to the discussions said.
“If someone wants to go out there after untold millions are spent, after being endorsed by the president – good luck with that,” the source said.
“He has reached out to some of the chairs to discuss this,” the source added, “but I don’t think the chairs have reached any decision.”
A third person close to the discussions noted that Hawley figured as a major force in 2018 following Collins’ federal indictment on insider trading charges on Aug. 8, 2018. Leaders in the outlying counties that could have a major say in the nomination liked Hawley then and still do, the source said.
“He has met with the chairs and is moving around a bit more. He certainly sounds like someone pretty interested to me,” the source said. “He has as good a chance as anybody.”
Others question whether Hawley would give up the Assembly seat he has held since 2006, as well as his successful insurance practice.
But Hawley faces major opposition. State Sens. Christopher L. Jacobs of Buffalo and Robert G. Ortt of North Tonawanda have officially declared, as has former Darien Town Justice Beth A. Parlato. Each emphasizes their ability to unite the party, though it is apparent that none have yet convinced the majority of county leaders poised to make a selection some time in early 2020.
Indeed, Parlato on Tuesday pointed to her efforts that are often painted as working outside the political hierarchy.
“It seems like all the politicians eyeing this seat are only interested in it if it’s handed to them in a special election,” she said. “I’ve been working tirelessly to connect with every voter in NY-27 since July and I’m confident that will be apparent in the primary election.”
Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr. may also eventually join the race.
Ortt said he hopes the nomination will not be brokered in some secret process.
“I don’t want to hear about a deal cut before the process. That’s my concern,” he said. “If it’s a fair and open process, I can live with the results.”