Weekly Feature

2018-11-07 / Front Page

Few surprises in local races as Collins wins re-election

BY Ethan Powers

If the “Blue wave” that propelled Democrats to retaking control of the House of Representatives washed across the nation on election night, it never quite reached the shores of Erie County.

Few upsets were on the cards for either party Tuesday night, as both Democrats and Republicans largely held on to seats belonging to incumbents. While most of the races featured large margins of victory, one that didn’t was perhaps that which the Republicans never considered to be competitive until a month ago.

Republican incumbent Chris Collins defeated Democratic challenger and Grand Island Supervisor Nate McMurray by such a close margin that McMurray had called for a recount just hours after conceding the race.

 “After examining the numbers, the margin is 1 percent and the will of the voters must be heard,” McMurray said in a statement.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Collins held a lead of a single percentage point, representing fewer than 3,000 votes. 

Prior to Collins’ Aug. 8 indictment on federal insider trading charges, the race for the NY-27 congressional seat was viewed as one of the GOP’s safest bets in national politics. Yet momentum began to swing following the charges and as McMurray barnstormed through the district in an attempt to offer voters a viable second option.

Collins himself initially expressed uncertainty as to whether he would seek re-election. Three days after the indictment, he announced the immediate suspension of his campaign. A week later and in a surprise to GOP leadership, Collins reversed course as he committed to winning re-election, citing the importance of the party keeping control of the seat.

That message seems to have resonated with voters in the largely Republican district, who comprehended the national implications that would have transpired had Collins lost the seat to Democrats.

“To a large extent this election came down to the support of our president,” said Collins in an impromptu press conference following his victory. “Clearly, my constituents recognized that I have a strong Trump district. I’m looking forward to going back and making sure we support his agenda.”

Tuesday night’s results offered hope to Democrats who now, for the first time in President Donald Trump’s administration, wield the legislative power necessary to stymie Republican efforts in Congress while they look to put forward substantial initiatives of their own. However, it was hardly the “wave” of progressive insurgency that the party had predicted, as Republicans strengthened their hold on the Senate and gained key governorships in swing states like Ohio, Michigan and Iowa.

Locally, neither party celebrated many surprises. Republican incumbent Mike Norris won re-election for the 144th Assembly District seat with 63 percent of the vote, while Republican-backed Mickey Kearns kept his spot as Erie County clerk.

For just the third time in 50 years, the Democrats took control of the New York State Senate, a victory that will give re-elected Gov. Andrew Cuomo a further consolidation of power. In the 61st state Senate district, however, Republican incumbent Mike Ranzenhofer easily held off Democrat Joan Seamans by winning 54 percent of the vote.

For Collins, his election victory gives him significant leverage with federal prosecutors for a prospective plea deal in his insider trading case. While his trial is not set to begin until February 2020, questions remain whether he will be allowed to serve on the congressional committees that he was removed from upon his indictment. He had served on the House Energy and Commerce Committee in addition to three subcommittees.

Collins said Tuesday night that he fully expects to be proven innocent of the “meritless charges” before stating that he is committed to serving his full term.

“This is not going to distract me at all. I acknowledge there’s a black cloud. I have to have my day in court to exonerate and clear my name,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, everything is fine.”

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