Handicapping a Hochul-Collins race

Reporting, analysis and commentary
by Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post

There’s the matter of an almost certain GOP primary, but the announcement over the weekend by Chris Collins that he is running for the 27th Congressional District leads to inevitable speculation about a general election showdown with Kathy Hochul.

Conventional wisdom holds that the Republican holds a distinct advantage because of party enrollment figures.  While precise numbers are hard to pin down, it appears enrolled Republican will outnumber Democrats by about 7 percent in a district that spans portions of eight counties.

Two Republicans have announced for the seat, Collins and decorated war veteran David Bellavia of Batavia. A third candidate might jump in, possibly Erie County Legislature Minority Leader John Mills.

There’s an interesting subplot at play, as Collins will presumably be backed by Carl Paladino, while Michael Caputo, Paladino’s campaign manager when he ran for governor two years ago, is working for Bellavia. Caputo and Paladino had a nasty falling out after the campaign.

Collins enjoys the better name recognition and has a lot more money. Both he and Bellavia have their pockets of supporters and critics within the party.

Bellavia, for example, angered some Republicans by endorsing Jack Davis in the three-way race for Congress last year that saw Hochul defeat Jane Corwin.

Collins, meanwhile, earned his share of detractors within party ranks during his four-year tenure as Erie County executive, his short-lived, gaffe-filled run for governor and his support of Edward Cox over Henry Wojtaszek of Niagara County for state party chairman a few years back.

Collins likes to note that he carried most of Erie County outside of Buffalo and Amherst – neither of which is included in the 27th – and expresses confidence he’ll be successful holding on to GOP voters in a Congressional race.

Left unsaid is that a fair number of voters found Collins so unlikeable that they couldn’t bring themselves to pull the lever for him last November. That problem was rooted in part by his decisions to cut funding for the arts and libraries, as well as a stiff personal demeanor and inappropriate comments made while running for governor. But it’s uncertain how much of that sticks with voters from outside Erie County.

Nevertheless, the likeability factor is almost certain to work in favor of Hochul, who is decidedly better at retail politics than Collins.

Collins’ personal wealth presents an advantage, but Hochul is no pauper, and both national parities are expected to pour money into the campaign, given that control of the House of Representatives is at stake this November.

While Republican’s hold an enrollment advantage in the district, they do not represent a plurality, which means independent voters will play a major factor. To prevail, Hochul would have to sway most of them.

The dynamics of the presidential election will also be a factor.

Voter turnout is higher in presidential years and while New York is expected to go to Obama, the voting history within the district suggests otherwise.

How much the national ticket influences the vote for Congress will depend in part on the GOP candidate for president. The party establishment is openly concerned about the ripple effect Rick Santorum would have on other Republican candidates. A ticket headed by Mitt Romney would likely help the GOP candidate is in the 27th.

There’s no doubt that Hochul faces serious hurdles to remain in Congress. Many in political circles don’t like her odds. Then again, they didn’t a year ago, either.