Gonzales

Rating change: Upstate New York race less vulnerable for GOP with Collins resignation

Without indicted incumbent in 27th District, Democratic takeover looks unlikely, but ballot questions remain

New York Rep. Chris Collins submitted his resignation Monday, a day before a hearing to change his plea of not guilty to insider trading charges.(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Not all House departures are created equal. New York Rep. Chris Collins’ resignation should make it easier for Republicans to hold his Buffalo-area sea because the GOP should have a nominee without legal problems. But New York’s multiple ballot lines could complicate the special election to replace the congressman, as they have in past contests.

Collins, who was reelected last year proclaiming his innocence on charges of insider trading, submitted his resignation Monday, a day before he is expected to change his not guilty plea.

His legal troubles made holding his district more complicated than it needed to be for Republicans. Donald Trump carried the 27th District by 25 points in 2016, 60 percent to 35 percent, yet Collins won by less than half of a percentage point last fall. 

Since Collins won’t appear on the 2020 ballot, Inside Elections is changing its rating of the race from Leans Republican to Solid Republican.

Normally, the race would warrant a Solid Republican rating. But in the past, Republicans found ways to make special elections more interesting than they need to be. Most recently in North Carolina’s 9th District, Republicans spent more than $6 million defending a seat that Trump carried by more than 10 points. 

New York’s races can be uniquely complicated, however, because of third parties having their own ballot lines, which could divide partisan voters.

For example, in 2011, Democrat Kathy Hochul (now New York’s lieutenant governor) won a special election for an earlier version of Collins’ seat (the old 26th District) with 47 percent against Republican Jane Corwin (43 percent) and wealthy tea party candidate Jack Davis, who received 9 percent. (Collins defeated Hochul by 2 points in 2012.)

And back in 2009, Democrat Bill Owens won a special election for the old 23rd District with 48 percent while Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman received 46 percent and Republican Dede Scozzafava (who dropped out before the election) received 6 percent.

New York’s 27th District should elect another Republican. It’s “pure rural,” according to City Lab, and 92 percent non-Hispanic white — the type of district that’s been trending Republican. But the potential for a divide in the Republican Party to manifest itself between multiple candidates on one ballot is a potential headache. And a special election timed with the Democratic presidential primary could hinder the GOP’s chances as well.

According to state law, there will be no primary, so local county party officials will choose nominees by weighted vote based on the previous gubernatorial result in the district. Typically, Democrats and Republicans choose their nominees first followed by Conservative, Working Families, Green Party, Libertarian, and Independence parties, on separate, subsequent nights.

“In most cases, everyone gets the joke, and the Republicans and Conservatives nominate the same person, and Democrats and Working Families parties nominate the same person,” one GOP operative from New York said. “It is technically possible that different candidates come out of that process on either side of the equation. That happens in rare cases when the parties are fighting or have some ax to grind with a particular nominee and may go in a different direction.”

With the possibility that Democrats could also be divided between multiple candidates, and a 25-point cushion in favor of the Republicans, the GOP should hold this seat without Collins. But don’t be surprised if gets more interesting.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.

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