Rep. Kathy Hochul is running in a predominantly Republican district against a candidate who is capable of self-funding his campaign. But the New York Democrat remains positive that she has a strong shot at winning her first full term to the House, saying her special election victory proves that she can win again.
If Democrats have their way, personality appears poised to play a big role in this race. Hochul is widely seen as affable and at ease with retail politicking. In person, she is engaging and warm.
Her opponent doesn’t have the same reputation. Republicans familiar with New York noted Collins’ sometimes caustic personality.
“There are those who like Chris Collins, and there are those who dislike him,” a longtime New York Republican operative said. “He can have an attitude. He’s got diarrhea of the mouth sometimes.”
Collins has had a few notable gaffes, including one in 2009 in which he compared the New York state Assembly Speaker, who is Jewish, to Hitler. Collins later apologized.
Democrats see his perceived personal negatives as a real advantage.
But Collins insisted that the narrative about him being unlikable is not accurate, and, more than that, it is his résumé that will matter to voters.
“I’m not out there to please everyone, I’m out there to do a job. And I do it in a businesslike fashion,” he said. “They want to elect someone to Congress ... who doesn’t cast votes to win friends but casts votes to get results and get this country turned around.”
He admitted that Hochul is a “very skilled politician” but said that is, “at the end of the day, her undoing.”
That’s probably not true, as Collins is also a politician. He lost re-election to a second term as Erie County executive last year. He also lost a bid for Congress in 1998 and flirted with running for governor in 2010.
But more than talking about Hochul as a politician, Collins and his aides emphasized she is on the wrong side of the district on the issues.
“The debate in this election won’t fall on nonsensical personal stuff,” explained Collins’ senior adviser, Chris Grant, “but rather on economic vision: Whose policies are going to let the private sector create more jobs?”
Republicans in New York and D.C. believe Collins’ personal story of his time as businessman — he started as a shoe salesman and ended up as a successful executive creating jobs in upstate New York — will be extremely effective.
But Democrats will work to paint him as an “out-of-touch millionaire.”
Whatever narrative breaks through, though, Collins’ wealth will be useful. Hochul raised more than $500,000 in the second quarter of this year and had about $1.2 million in cash on hand at the end of June.
Still, the dynamics of the district and the year are not in her favor. But Hochul said her special election victory proves she can win again.
“You don’t have to have the most money — I didn’t have tons of money from super PACs flying in. And we did it a year ago, with an opponent that people said was unbeatable in a district people said I can’t win.”
“So,” she said, “we’re doing it again. We’re doing it again.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.