A look at past election results and the political maneuvering in the suddenly exciting race in the 27th Congressional District

Last week’s indictment of 27th District Congressman Chris Collins and others on insider trading charges has encouraged another look at the possible competitiveness of a district that has been the most overwhelming Republican one in New York State. National House race political gurus have moved their reviews of the district from strong Republican to leaning Republican. That’s not a major shift thus far, but the consensus appears to be that Democratic candidate Nate McMurray’s chances have improved from where they stood just ten days ago.

It’s not unusual in politics for legends to supersede reality, leading even knowledgeable politicos to make assumptions about campaign outcomes that are not necessarily rooted in reality. Think the race for United States Senator from Alabama at the end of last year or Congressman Joe Crowley’s race for re-election in Brooklyn in June. What’s to say that New York’s 27th district will not also defy standard assumptions?

The history of the current 27th congressional district, traced back in its various drawings following federal reapportionments, has been a Republican district for most of the past sixty years or more. Republicans who have held the seat in its past or current forms include John Pillion, Jack Kemp, Bill Paxon, Tom Reynolds, Chris Lee and Chris Collins. Democrat Max McCarthy held the seat between 1965 and 1971. Kathy Hochul won a special election in 2011 and was the representative for a year and a half.

Hochul ran against Collins in 2012 and lost by just 5,001 votes, a margin of 1.6 percent. Collins comfortably won the last two elections in the district with margins of 85,764 (71 percent to 29 percent) in 2014 and 113,053 votes (67 to 33 percent) in 2016. Donald Trump carried the district by 24 percent in 2016.

When you drill down in the numbers you see substantial swings in total votes in 2012, 2014 and 2016. You also see enrollment numbers indicating that while there are 41,614 more Republicans than Democrats in the 27th, a total of 104,178 voters, or 21 percent of the district in 2018 are not affiliated with any party.

Here’s a summary of votes in the district in the past three general elections:

Year       Candidate                       Total Vote           Percentage of Vote

2012       Kathy Hochul (D)            156,219                                49.2 %

Chris Collins (R)               161,220                               50.8 %

2014       James O’Donnell (D)        58,911                                 29 %

Chris Collins (R)               144,675                                71%

2016       Diane Kastenbaum (D)   107,832                                33%

Chris Collins (R)               220,885                               67 %

Several points are worth noting:

  • In 2012 Hochul and Collins each had two lines on the ballot. In 2014 Collins had three lines to O’Donnell’s two, while in 2016 Collins had four lines to Kastenbaum’s one.
  • Turnout in the last mid-term election (2014) was substantially less than in the presidential election years. The 2014 turnout was just 64 percent of what it was in 2012 and just 62 percent compared with the 2016 turnout.
  • The portion of the district located in Erie County represents 42 percent of the district’s registered voters. Seven other Western New York counties make up the remainder of the district.
  • The actual vote share from Erie County in the last three general elections was slightly higher than the county’s registration share: 44 percent in 2012; 42.7 percent in 2014; and 43.6 percent in 2016.

If Erie County Democrats could produce something close to 2012 or 2016 numbers for Democrat McMurray in 2018, when overall district turnout might be substantially reduced from 2016, McMurray would benefit greatly. I’m not minimizing the effort that must go into producing such a result, but it’s an opportunity nonetheless.

Collins has announced that he is suspending his campaign, a recent and fancy way that candidates report that they are quitting the race. He also has said that he will continue to serve in the House until his term runs out at the beginning of January.

Republican, Conservative and Independence Party leaders don’t have control over whether Collins stays on the ballot or tries to take a legal route out of the House race. Collins is substantially wounded but other members of Congress have been re-elected after an indictment. Nate Silver, political prognosticator extraordinaire, says that indicted candidates for Congress on average lose 9 percent of their previous victory margins. If that were the case Collins might still be able to win in 2018 if the voters could get past the very serious charges lodged against him.

That being said, the horror being universally expressed by Republicans about Collins’ continued candidacy clearly demonstrates that they consider him toast personally, and more importantly for the party, a major drag on the party ticket in New York State and beyond.

Collins might try to leave the ballot by resigning from Congress and retreat to his gated-community home in Florida, which could allow another candidate to be substituted. A former holder of Collins’ seat, Tom Reynolds, suggests however that New York State laws concerning candidates declining a party nomination and then being replaced by another candidate may not apply to congressional candidates. There is in fact a local precedent, and Reynolds is totally familiar with it since he was the departing congressman when the legal action occurred.

Jon Powers in 2008 was a Democratic and Working Families party candidate for Congress in the former 26th district. Powers lost the Democratic primary to Alice Kryzan and then attempted to get off the Working Families ballot in November by moving out of state so that Kryzan could be substituted on the Working Families line. A state court decision said that Powers could be removed from the ballot since he had moved out of state.

It didn’t work. The state court decision was then taken to federal court by supporters of Republican candidate Christopher Lee. Judge Richard Arcara, on the Friday before the election, ruled that taking Powers off the ballot would disenfranchise those who already voted by absentee ballot. Arcara also ruled that the House of Representatives has the authority on who is qualified for election. On the Monday before the election a three judge federal panel ruled that Powers could not be removed from the ballot. Powers name remained on the ballot and he received 12,104 votes. Kryzan lost to Lee.

Switching Collins into a race for another office is another option, but it could also run afoul of the same legal issues raised in the 2008 case. In any case, such a move would be awfully complicated since Collins holds the Republican, Conservative and Independence lines, and all three lines would need to be cleared. It has been suggested by some that they could run Collins for county clerk in some other part of the state, which is highly unlikely. There is the pesky problem of residency in the county or town where the switcheroo would occur.

More likely moves are being discussed by Republicans. One option would be to run State Senator Michael Ranzenhofer for Congress; then substitute State Assemblyman Ray Walter for the Senate seat; and then, drumroll, run Collins for Walter’s Assembly seat.

Given residency issues and the requirement to technically qualify Collins for office he would be seeking, a local town candidacy would need to occur in Clarence. There are no local offices on the ballot in Clarence this year, but what if a Republican town office holder such as the town justice suddenly resigned? Wouldn’t it be great to run an indicted congressman for town justice?

No matter what public office the Republican might attempt to plug Collins into, there would be the taint of scandal carrying over to all involved. Who would want to be a party to such a smelly scheme? Who would want Collins as their new running mate?

Fifteen or more names of other potential Republican candidates have surfaced – there is no reason to name them all at the moment. Many of the elected officials on the list have substantial campaign treasuries, but those are for state or local elections in New York State and the funds are not transferable to federal elections so a new Republican candidate jumping into the race would need to start from scratch. At least one potential candidate, Carl Paladino, could self-fund. The national Republican Party is already stretched thin financially, having to defend dozens of districts throughout the country, so whatever help they could offer would be limited. In the meantime the days until Election Day that are available for campaign organizing and fundraising are slipping away as discussions and impending legal actions clog everything up.

This is certainly going to enliven the campaign this year. Republicans from gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro on down will continue to go after Andrew Cuomo and the scandals of Albany, but the day-to-day political news will be counter-balanced by all things Collins. Republicans will often be required to comment on him. Certainly not what anyone was anticipating as August began.

Campaign financial updates

Candidates in the September 13th state and local primary elections were required to file campaign financial reports on August 13th for transactions and receipts through August 9th. Come back to politicsandstuff.com tomorrow and Thursday for the most recent financial reports.

Chris Collins, stockbroker

In light of today’s indictment of Chris Collins, his son and his son’s future father-in-law, I thought I would offer some historical perspective by re-publishing a post about Collins that first appeared here in July 2017.  A link to that post follows.

Some other thoughts:

  • How does all this fit into the character of a man who prides himself on being an Eagle Scout?
  • Does Collins’ press conference today in New York City count as some sort of public event that he has so aggressively avoided with his constituents?
  • For the Republicans so eager to pile on to Albany corruption, where is the outrage about Collins?
  • The line-up for a Republican replacement candidate is already forming:  State Senator Pat Gallivan; Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw; radio host David Bellavia.  There will be more.
  • Finally, at the end of the linked 2017 post there are comments about how offended Collins was as Louise Slaughter went after him about his stock-trading activities.  Somewhere today, Louise is smiling.

Here is the link to the July 2017 post about Collins.

Health care in the age of Trump

Donald Trump is obsessed with obliterating the legacy of Barack Obama’s presidency in every manner possible. That includes the national health care program known as Obamacare. Much of the Obama-obsession seems personal, but the consequences of Trump’s efforts to eliminate or radically change Obamacare will have a far-reaching, long-term effect on the health and well-being of millions of Americans.

Some folks in this country seem to feel that everyone should be on their own as far acquiring health insurance is concerned. I’ve got mine, good luck getting yours.

There are many of us in this country, however, who see the availability of health care as a basic human right in what is the wealthiest nation in the world. The reason for that line of thinking is pretty simple. Without baseline health care children will suffer. Without baseline health care adults may not be able to work to support themselves and their families.

Without baseline health care people will still get sick, but they will be forced to turn in larger numbers to care in hospital emergency rooms. Hospital emergency rooms have staffs, equipment and supplies, which all cost money. When a patient cannot pay their bill for emergency room care, the hospital shifts it in some manner to the other patients of the hospital who do have health insurance, and also to government which pays for Medicare and Medicaid patients. In either case, other people indirectly subsidize some measure of the costs of uninsured care. In the age of Trump those indirect subsidies will grow.

During the presidential campaign in 2016 Donald Trump promised great health care for all, costing less than what people were then paying. He didn’t want people dying on the streets, he said.

When he got to the White House he joined with congressional Republicans in pursuing their dream of repealing Obamacare. Health care reform was going to be so simple. Repeal morphed into “repeal and replace,” except they could never figure out the repeal part, let alone how to replace.

After lurching from one alternative to another the House of Representatives managed to pass a repeal bill, but it died in the Senate. To this day Trump mocks the negative vote of the senator and war hero who cast a negative vote on a bill that would have killed Obamacare. That doesn’t seem to bother congressional Republicans who let the snarky comments about Senator John McCain go unanswered.

After “repeal and replace” failed, the Trump administration, with congressional assistance, proceeded to do all that it can to destroy the availability of health care for millions of Americans through the issuance of administrative regulations and by attaching partial repeal onto their tax legislation. They have fought Medicaid expansions in many states. They have eliminated the requirement that everyone must have health insurance or pay a tax penalty, which allows the healthiest to drop their coverage if they choose, driving up the cost of community-pooled coverage for everyone else.

In its place, Trump and his loyal Trumpkins have proposed the expanded availability of “short-term” policies to be sold in states that choose to do so. That option is what might be called “fake health insurance.”

A while back this year, when Roseanne Barr’s mouth got her new television show shut down, I pointed out an issue generally overlooked about the consequences of that show’s cancellation. While there were elements of Trump politics in the program, there was also an understory that was worth telling.

Roseanne and her TV family were middle class folks who had to pay their mortgage, put bread on the table and provide health care for family members. There were discussions about opioid-abuse, surgery deferred because of cost, pill-splitting and pill skipping – issues that millions of others deal with in real life every day.

It was only a TV show, but it highlighted how an average family struggles and can be destroyed by a lack of quality, reasonably priced health coverage. It often only takes one bump in the road to destroy a family’s budget.

An article in the New York Times earlier this week reported on one of the major consequences of a family’s health care problems, the growing number of people, particularly middle-aged and older, who wind up going bankrupt from a financial bump in the road that grows into a much more serious problem.

The short-term medical insurance policy option, according to the Trump administration, offers people low cost alternatives for health care. Wrong. Those options simply pretend to be health insurance. They are fake insurance.

“Short-term” originally meant 90 days. It was considered a bridge policy until a person could get into a more comprehensive coverage plan. The administration will now allow these plans to run for much longer terms, which creates the impression that they are like real medical insurance.

Here are some of the features of Trump-sanctioned short-term medical insurance:

  • The plans can now run for 364 days, with renewal for up to an additional 36 months.
  • Coverages often do not include prenatal and maternity care; mental health; drug treatment; prescription drugs; joint replacement surgery; cataract treatment; hernia repair surgery; injuries from organized sports; immunizations.
  • Annual dollar limits are imposed on the amount of care that will be covered. Obamacare prohibits such limits.
  • Pre-existing conditions will generally not be covered.
  • Strange conditions exist in some short-term policies like providing hospital coverage only if the admission occurs during the week.
  • Waiting periods are created for coverage to kick in.

Such policies can also come with high deductibles and high co-pays. Even worse is what doesn’t come with such policies – namely coverage for the ten critical health issues that are mandated by the still-in-force Obamacare law for standard insurance policies.

People who choose to buy short-term coverage may not need much in the way of medical care for a while, so they might not even notice what’s missing – until they need it. Some insurance carriers will gladly take them on. Policy premiums for short-term coverages provide much greater financial rewards for the companies and brokers selling the plans compared with what insurers and brokers make when selling insurance that includes the requirements of Obamacare.

Such flim-flam is something right out of the Trump University playbook. Promise people what they want to hear, take their money and laugh all the way to the bank. At the end of the day those buying into the fake insurance will likely be worse off than they were before. Let’s hope they don’t get sick.

Less than 100 days until the November election; pondering the next State Senate

The 2018 political pace is picking up even though we just turned the calendar to August.

The primary season is winding down, but there are still a few states left to select candidates in primaries, including New York. The marathon is coming to the final few miles. Soon it will be a sprint to the finish.

The Democratic primary for governor is still Andrew Cuomo’s to lose, and he is a smart enough politician to know how to avoid most of the potholes and minefields. Despite all the bad press about Cuomo associates being convicted on corruption charges, the polls, including one released yesterday, continue to show Cuomo far ahead of Cynthia Nixon.

While Nixon is trying her best to make herself into the statewide equivalent of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, most of the state, including even some parts of New York City and the surrounding suburbs, do not in any way resemble the 14th congressional district where Ocasio-Cortez won her Democratic primary in June.

As Bob McCarthy recently pointed out in the Buffalo News, Cuomo has been pretty scarce in Western New York since “Buffalo Billion” became dirty words. But politically speaking, at least in the primary, Cuomo will have a good deal of help in Western New York without setting foot here. Jeremy Zellner’s Democratic organization will turn out good numbers for Cuomo, as they did four years ago. Buffalo Mayor and State Democratic Chairman Byron Brown will also make some contribution to the local Cuomo turnout. A vote here counts like one in New York City, but the margin of victory and the percentage of turnout will be better in Erie than your average NYC county.

In the 2014 primary Cuomo’s victory margin over Zephyr Teachout in Kings County (Brooklyn, the largest NYC county) was 38,433. In Erie County the Cuomo winning vote spread was 32,198, or just 6,235 less than in Kings – despite the fact that there were 715,918 more registered Democrats in Kings than in Erie that year. Turnout in Erie County was 18.6 percent but only 9.5 percent in Kings. So much for NYC prowess.

Where this may be heading in September becomes clearer by the day, and the best indication of the direction comes from the leadership of the Working Families Party which nominated Nixon for governor, and from Nixon herself. The Party is already plotting about what to do to get Nixon off their ballot line and substitute Andrew Cuomo after she loses the Democratic primary.

The scheme involves Nixon declining the Working Families’ nomination for governor. She would then, the plan goes, be substituted for the Party’s current candidate for State Assembly in the district where Nixon resides. The current Democratic Assemblywoman in that district, according to a McCarthy Buffalo News story, does not seem interested in playing along.

And then there is the Working Families problem of what to do with their designee for lieutenant governor, Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams. Williams is one of 51 council members in New York City, which is also populated by dozens of state politicians with little name recognition. Williams has done nothing particular to distinguish himself other than a few arrests following some protests. He had $45,000 in his campaign account as of July 12th but had to refund at least that amount because he accepted illegal corporate campaign contributions, leaving him, at least for the moment, with a balance of $0. The New York Post reported yesterday that Williams owes $625,000 on an investment that went bad several years ago.

Williams’ opponent, incumbent Kathy Hochul, has more than one million dollars in the bank and she has the solid support of the Democratic Party structure. They don’t turn out a lot of voters in a primary in New York City, but they mostly turn out the right ones. Hochul will coast to victory.

If the Working Families Party cannot also find a political landing spot for Williams after he loses the Democratic primary, they will be stuck with him on the November ballot as their candidate for lieutenant governor.

The thing is, Andrew Cuomo will not need the Working Families Party nomination to win in November. He has a little extra help with the Independence and Women’s Equality Parties nominations in hand, besides the likely Democratic line. Cuomo has had his problems with the Working Families folks over the years, so it does not seem improbable that he would be happy to see Working Families drop down or off state election ballots for the next four years.

Republicans, of course, are hoping for some opportunities to fall their way if Nixon remains on the Working Families line in November, along with Green candidate Howie Hawkins and Serve America Movement candidate Stephanie Miner. The assumption is that the three minor party candidates will draw left-of-center votes away from Cuomo. Maybe.

But the thing is, given Cuomo’s substantial lead in the polls at this time over Republican Marc Molinaro, he (Cuomo) can probably afford to lose some votes on the left and still win comfortably. It is also possible that votes that Nixon, Hawkins and Miner attract in November might just come from Democrats and independents who decide to cast their anti-Cuomo vote for one of the three, instead of Molinaro. Molinaro needs all the anti-Cuomo votes he can pick up.

There is also a possible side effect from all this as it relates to the state’s minor parties lineup. In the unlikely event that Nixon attempts to make a real effort to be elected governor in November, she could very well push the Working Families Party up to the third line on the election ballot for the next four years. If she forgoes a serious push, the Party could fall further in the ballot lineup.

I attended a Molinaro town hall meeting last evening. He is articular, smart and has a good sense of humor. It was refreshing to hear a Republican officeholder say that we all need to do more to respect one another, regardless of a person’s political leanings.

Molinaro has relatively little money – less than Rob Astorino had four years ago. He has been in multiple elected positions since he was 18 years old, which probably doesn’t serve as a plus with many people these days. If there is going to be a blue wave anywhere in the country this year, New York is likely to be the bluest of all.

I wrote several months ago that there would not be much of a contest for governor. There is no reason at the beginning of August to think differently, less than one hundred days away from the November election.

The State Senate

There will be some campaign excitement about control of the State Senate. The Republican Party, except for brief interludes in the 1960’s and in the 20-aughts, has dominated that house of the Legislature for decades.

That might change in 2018. Several Republican senators are past their sell-by dates. Democrats already technically have a majority of the senators except for one renegade who has caucused with the Republicans.

The Assembly’s Democrats have a lock on their majority and Cuomo is favored for re-election. If the Senate goes to the Democrats in November there will likely be one-party rule in the state for years to come.

There are only three Democratic senators in office now representing districts north or west of the lower Hudson Valley, including Tim Kennedy of Buffalo. Most of the other 29 Democratic senators reside in or around New York City. So the question will be, what kind of influence will upstate senators carry in a Democratic-controlled Senate? By force of numbers the likely answer is “not much.”

A New York City oriented Senate could move state spending and policy in ways that will not make moderate or conservative upstate Democrats very comfortable. What would be the counter-balance? Will there be one?

One final slightly premature thought

If in fact the Republicans lose the governor’s office and the state Senate, Republican state chairman Ed Cox will have a tough time holding on to that position or he may give it up on his own. A fresh start might be demanded. Look for Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy to be a prime contender to replace Cox.