Republican chairs in NY-27 face new dilemma after indicted Collins refuses to exit ballot

Indicted U.S. Rep. Chris Collins did an about face. After saying as recently as last week he would cooperate with Republican party leaders over efforts to replace him on the ballot, the official word Monday: No deal.

Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy said during a press conference Monday he felt "a little bit like a jilted groom at the altar."

“Since the day of his indictment, from hour one, we were working to replace him on the ballot. Then we had the rug pulled out from under us,” Langworthy said.

Collins pleaded not guilty in August to insider trading and lying to the FBI. Since his indictment, Republican leaders across the eight counties of the right-leaning 27th Congressional district that includes much of Ontario County had been working to remove Collins from the congressional ballot. The plan was to make him a placeholding nominee for another position such as county clerk. They were expected to announce their choice to replace Collins on the congressional ballot as early as this week.

Trisha Turner, chair of the Ontario County Republican Committee, planned to be in Albany Tuesday for a meeting with the other 27th party chairs. The meeting had been previously scheduled to discuss what Langworthy called a "crystal clear" path to replace Collins. Now it will focus on how to get Collins re-elected.

“We will regroup. I don’t think we have a choice in the matter,” Turner said Monday. “This will complicate things.”

“Our course changed as of today,” she said. “We will try to put forth our best effort, for the best scenario.”

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez happened to be in the Buffalo area Monday for the opening of the campaign headquarters of Nate McMurray, who is running for Collins' seat. As about 150 supporters gathered for the event in Hamburg, news of the Republican's decision to stay on the ballot was spreading via mobile phone news feeds.

After addressing the crowd, Perez, who was critical of the plans to substitute Collins off the ballot, said: "Everything he's doing right now is a fraud."

McMurray, town supervisor in suburban Grand Island, downplayed any impact on the race.

"We were always running against team Collins. It's not just him, it's the system. ... We're fighting against corruption, and that corruption is top-down. It's a team of people who said, 'This man is our standard bearer,'" McMurray said.

Immediately after being charged in August with illegally using inside information about a biotech company to help his son avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses, Collins said at a news conference he would continue his re-election campaign while fighting the charges. Less than a week later, he announced he was ending his campaign, saying it was in the best interests of his constituents, the Republican Party and Trump's agenda. He confirmed that position during a television interview a week ago.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a statement Monday.

“In an attempt to end a devastating news cycle following Congressman Chris Collins’ indictment, Republicans immediately vowed that they would get their scandalized Congressman off the federal ballot, but we now know that this wasn’t true,” stated DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly.

“The voters of New York 27th Congressional District now have the clearest of choices between scandal-plagued Chris Collins and Nate McMurray, who will be a real fighter for the families of Western New York, and the stakes just got a whole lot higher on November 6th.”

There was no immediate comment Monday from Collins, and it was not clear whether he would actively campaign. Collins, an early and ardent supporter of President Donald Trump, has a $1.3 million campaign war chest.

Langworthy said on Monday Collins should campaign hard and use his campaign coffers to win re-election. “It’s so important to have a Republican majority for President Trump to pass his agenda,” the GOP chairman said.

Langworthy called McMurray “an extremist” who “represents a liberal philosophy that doesn’t exist in NY 27.”

Judith Hunter, chair of the Livingston County Democratic Committee responded. “They are busily trying to paint a caricature of who Nate McMurray is — that is divorced from his record and his policies,” she said. “If the Republican rank and file would give him a look they would see that he is not at all an extremist. He is a reasonable and pragmatic person and that is what this district desperately needs.”

Includes reporting by the Associated Press