Breaking: Collins suspends campaign. So what now?

This comes as an unexpected course reversal. After insisting repeatedly that he would soldier on with his reelection effort, indicted New York Congressman Chris Collins announced this morning that he was going to suspend his campaign. To say that this complicates the picture for the GOP in the upcoming midterms would be a significant understatement. (CNBC)

Rep. Chris Collins, one of President Donald Trump’s earliest backers in Congress, suspended his campaign on Saturday, in the wake of insider trading allegations that resulted in his dramatic arrest this week.

In a statement, the embattled New York Republican who represents the state’s 27th Congressional district said that “after extensive discussions with my family and my friends over the last few days, I have decided that it is in the best interests of the constituents of NY-27, the Republican Party and President Trump’s agenda for me to suspend my campaign for re-election to Congress.”

Collins’ district, which is in the Western part of New York, is considered heavily Republican. Yet his travails come at a time when Democrats are on the offensive ahead of the midterm elections, and generic polls show them widely favored to recapture the House of Representatives at the very least.

When the news of Collins’ arrest and federal charges first came out I broke down some of the possible scenarios for the GOP going forward. This option, however, was not on my list. At the time it seemed as if there were really only two choices. One was that Collins could quit the campaign immediately, saying he wouldn’t seek another term, and Republicans could hope to get an extension on the filing deadline (which is tomorrow) to replace him in record time. The other was for Collins to stick it out, hope to win even while under indictment in a heavily R-leaning district, and resign next year if he’s convicted. That would allow for a special election later in 2019 which the Republicans would likely win anyway and hang onto the seat.

Now what? Good question. Collins is “suspending his campaign” which is the phrase most politicians use when they are actually quitting but want to keep the campaign alive on paper so they can still do fundraising to cover their costs. (Assuming he can find anyone interested in donating.) But his name is still going to be on the ballot absent some complicated court intervention. While the rules for third party candidates are a bit different than for the major parties in New York, it doesn’t even look like another Republican could run as an independent and make it on the ballot.

One strange, outside chance is that another Republican could run on the New York Conservative Party line (disclosure… that’s my party) but they already endorsed Collins and party boss Mike Long already came out in support of him after the arrest. Plus, we might run into a problem with the state’s archaic Wilson-Pakula Act, which bars a candidate from one party receiving the nomination of another party unless they officially joined the party well in advance of the election. There are exceptions to that rule which might make it possible if the leaders of the Conservative Party are willing to go along with a replacement, but it’s not a sure thing. And, again, we’re getting down to the wire for any changes on the ballot as it is.

If Collins had simply kept up the fight while maintaining his innocence, I still think he’d have won in November, though by a narrower margin than he’s used to. Now, with the campaign suspended, I don’t know that we’ll have much in the way of options. Collins may have just gift wrapped another seat for the Democrats for the next two years.

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