By Jim Ellis
Jan. 29, 2020 — Though New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has not officially called the special election to replace resigned Rep. Chris Collins (R), and the Democrats have not yet officially named their party standard bearer, it is now clear who will be vying for the vacant congressional seat and when the election will occur.
It is all but certain that the governor will schedule the special election concurrently with the state’s presidential primary on April 28. Under New York election law, the party county chairmen meet and together choose their congressional district nominee in the event of a vacancy. In the 27th, eight counties comprise the CD so only eight individuals from each party choose the candidates who will face each other in the special general election. Under this system, the public only votes once.
We learned Monday that the eight Republican county chairmen had selected Erie County state Sen. Chris Jacobs to advance into the special election. Sen. Jacobs had previously indicated that he would not seek re-election to the Senate and instead enter the 2020 regular Republican congressional primary regardless if Rep. Collins was still in office. The congressman later pled guilty to conspiracy to commit insider trading and lying to the FBI and has been sentenced to a prison term. He resigned from the House at the end of September.
State Sen. Robert Ortt (R-Tonawanda), Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, and attorney and Fox News contributor Beth Parlato were also vying for the nomination, but the chairmen chose Sen. Jacobs on what was called “a close vote.” Mychajliw was particularly critical of the process and result, claiming Jacobs was chosen because Republican state party chairman Nicholas Langworthy’s wife is a paid fundraiser for Sen. Jacobs.
Though the Democratic chairmen have not yet met, it is a foregone conclusion that they will choose 2018 nominee Nate McMurray, a former Grand Island town supervisor. McMurray has drawn little to no opposition after holding Rep. Collins to only a 48-47 percent victory in the last general election. During the last campaign, it was known that the congressman was under indictment, but he had not pled to any charge, nor had he been convicted.
Though the 27th District, which begins in the east Buffalo suburbs and stretches to the rural areas south of Rochester, is a reliably Republican seat, the GOP did lose a special election here in 2011. The winner, Democrat Kathy Hochul, who today is New York’s lieutenant governor, then lost to Collins in the 2012 regular election.
Sen. Jacobs may not be as popular with the Republican base voter as he is with the party chairmen, however. On record with negative comments about then-candidate Donald Trump, and with a voting record to the left of most Republicans, the GOP may see a turnout drop off for the special election if Jacobs fails to excite them at the same time Democrats will be turning out in heavy numbers to vote for their presidential candidate.
Timing and schedule may play another part in this unfolding potential political drama. Candidate filing for the regular election June 23 primary is April 2. This means candidates will have to make a decision about whether to run for the regular term before the special election results are known.
With Parlato and Mychajliw already saying they may enter the regular election Sen. Jacobs could have trouble in the regular primary even if he wins the special general. Conversely, if Sen. Jacobs were to lose the special, only he would again be on the regular election ballot if none of the others do file. Therefore, a Republican conundrum exists.
Chances are good that some of the GOP candidates will file for the regular election if, for nothing else, to become a place holder in case Jacobs loses the special. If he wins, the other Republicans could either drop out before the regular primary or simply not campaign and concede the nomination to the new congressman.
In any event, upstate New York promises to soon be the site of even more political intrigue in an early election cycle with more than its fair share.