Two years ago, one of the most conservative congressional districts in the state almost went blue. Rep. Chris Collins had been indicted on charges of insider trading and was awaiting trial – but he didn’t step down from his position representing the 27th Congressional District. Democrat Nate McMurray sought to take advantage of Collins’ precarious situation, but lost to him by less than half a percentage point.
Collins went on to relinquish his seat in Congress, shortly before pleading guilty last year, meaning that voters in this Republican-heavy district won’t get a rematch between an indicted Republican and a lesser-known Democrat.
Instead, Republican state Sen. Chris Jacobs is the frontrunner to replace Collins. But as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, he’s competing in both a delayed special election against McMurray to serve out the remainder of Collins’ tenure as well as the Republican primary – on the same day. The unusual situation means Jacobs could conceivably win just one of the two elections he’s competing in – but short of a major upset, Jacobs is likely headed to Congress for at least the next two-and-a-half years.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo originally announced April 28 as the date of the special election to replace Collins, which would have coincided with the Democratic presidential primary. But the coronavirus crisis upended that plan, and when the governor postponed the presidential primary, he pushed back the Western New York congressional special election as well – to June 23, the same day as the primary in the district. And while Cuomo ultimately canceled other state and local special elections due to the overlap and to avoid confusion, he did not have the authority to do the same for a federal contest.
All this means that Republicans in the 27th Congressional District get to vote twice – and Jacobs is the only one competing in both races. Theoretically, he could lose the special election, but win the Republican primary, putting him at a minor disadvantage come November since he wouldn’t be the incumbent. He could also win the special but lose the primary, limiting his tenure in Congress to several months. Jacobs could also lose both races. But given the conservative nature of the district and the strong support that he has received, this scenario seems the most unlikely.
Multiple Republicans sought the party nomination to run in the special election, including two who are still running in the primary – attorney Beth Parlato and Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw. Jacobs won the party’s backing to face off against McMurray in a race he’s heavily favored to win.
Even before Collins stepped down, Jacobs announced his intention to run against the disgraced incumbent. Jacobs argued last August that “Collins is the only person putting this district in jeopardy of not staying Republican.” The conventional wisdom about the district – one of the few in the state where Republicans outnumber Democrats, and where Trump won by nearly a 25-point margin in 2016 – is that he’s right.
A victory in an April 28 special would have granted Jacobs the power of incumbency in the June 23 primary. Instead, he’ll have to rely on voters to pick him twice on Election Day, rather than potentially splitting the vote between him in the special and one of his competitors in the primary.
In the heart of Trump country in Western New York, in a district that was represented since 2103 by Collins, one of Trump’s earliest and staunchest supporters, Republicans’ support for the president is paramount. Jacobs, who has a history as a moderate, dodged questions about then-candidate Trump in 2016 and supported other Republicans in the presidential primary. He has shifted his tune since then, saying that he voted for Trump and showering praise on the president. And while Mychajliw and Parlato put themselves forward as Trump candidates, the president openly endorsed Jacobs. Trump has tweeted multiple times in support of Jacobs’ candidacy, first on Feb. 18 to say Jacobs has his “Complete Endorsement,” and most recently on June 16, a week before Election Day.
Parlato, who has painted herself as an outsider opposing career politicians Jacobs and Mychajliw, has the backing of the Conservative Party. She has dismissed Jacobs’ voting record as “too liberal” for the district’s conservative voters. Notably, he expressed support for abortion rights in 2006, and was a registered Democrat in the late 1990s. And while Jacobs has far outraised his primary opponents, Parlato has raised and spent much more campaign cash than Mychajliw, and won support from an influential conservative PAC.
Jacobs not only has more cash and the support of Trump, but he enjoys strong name recognition. He represents a part of the district in the state Senate and has a long history in state and local politics going back more than a decade. He comes from a prominent Western New York family, whose name is emblazoned on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus’ Jacobs Institute. Indeed, both the special election and the GOP primary are Jacobs’ to lose.
NEXT STORY: The reforms in store for the NYPD