NY 27 Rating Change: Chris Collins’ Arrest Puts Seat in Play

August 8, 2018 · 1:04 PM EDT

If Rep. Chris Collins continues to run for re-election, he would do so while facing charges of insider trading and lying to the F.B.I. But just because a member of Congress is indicted, doesn’t mean they can’t win.

GOP Rep. Michael Grimm of New York and Democratic Rep. William J. Jefferson of Louisiana are two recent examples of incumbents who won re-election in the face of significant legal problems.

Democrats are salivating at the possibility that the congressman’s arrest Wednesday puts his Western New York seat in play. President Donald Trump won the 27th District 60-35 percent in 2016 and the race was previously rated as Solid Republican by Inside Elections, but Democrats now think they could have a better shot at it.

“With Collins’ arrest for corruption, unprecedented grassroots energy, and the strong candidacy of Nate McMurray, this seat is firmly in play for Democrats,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said in a statement Wednesday.

McMurray, the Grand Island town supervisor, has referenced Collins’ ethics troubles as part of his campaign. Up to this point, his campaign hasn’t received much attention, in part because of his modest fundraising. He had $82,000 in cash on hand as of June 30, according to Federal Election Commission documents. Collins’ campaign had $1.3 million on hand.

In a March Facebook post, McMurray wrote, “Congress should not be a country club for insider deals. Elected officials should work for their constituents, not for their cronies and their own wallets,” and included a link to his campaign fundraising page.

Reached for comment Wednesday morning , McMurray’s campaign said the Democrat would be holding a press conference at 2 p.m. in Hamburg to address the news.

Collins was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump in the GOP primary, and he won re-election in 2016 with 67 percent in a race that wasn’t considered competitive.

A source with Collins’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It was not initially clear whether Collins will still run for re-election, but his legal team said Wednesday that Collins would fight the charges. Collins secured the GOP nomination in June.

A spokesperson for the State Board of Elections did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but it is generally difficult to remove one’s name from the ballot in New York after winning a party’s nomination.

Republicans could still hold onto Collins’ House seat despite the charges because of the Republican leanings of the district. It will be up to McMurray to capitalize on the news to boost his fundraising. And subsequent polling in the race will help show how voters in the district feel about the congressman.

While there are still plenty of unanswered questions, Inside Elections is changing the rating from Solid Republican to Likely Republican as the race develops.

In 2014, Grimm won re-election to his Staten Island seat despite facing charges of tax fraud. Grimm later resigned his seat after pleading guilty and he served several months in prison.

In 2006, Jefferson won re-election to his Louisiana district after the F.B.I. raided his home and found $90,000 cash in his freezer in a bribery probe.

Bridget Bowman of Roll Call contributed to this story.