BY TERRENCE ROBINSON
Western New York Congressman Chris Collins became the first Congressman to endorse Donald Trump’s bid for the Republican nomination with a stunning announcement last Wednesday following the Nevada caucuses. Since that announcement, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Maine Governor Paul Lepage, and former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, have joined with Congressman Collins and Congressman Hunter of California in public support of The Donald’s lofty aspiration. Is Congressman Collins the canary in the coal mine – does his song sound the death knell for Cruz, Rubio, and the establishment G.O.P. ? Is the Congressman’s endorsement the portent of a stream of established Republican office-holders that believe Mr. Trump’s nomination is inevitable?
The Congressman’s endorsement comes after his preferred candidate, Jeb Bush, withdrew from the race. Mr. Collins is a long-time businessman, a successful entrepreneur and only later in the game, a politician. Is Mr. Collins endorsement the first of a continuing flood – or is he an outlier whose gesture was smart local politics [a tip of the hat to the late Tip O’Neill] – is he missing something important? Mr. Collins belief that government should be run as a business was a mantra of his term as County Executive. His sprawling Western New York district, comprised of Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, and Livingston counties and parts of Erie, Monroe, Niagara, and Ontario counties, is considered safely Republican. The 27th Congressional District was reconfigured following the 2010 census after current Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul won the seat in a special election. In a close contest, Collins defeated Hochul in 2012 and was reelected by a wide margin in 2014.
Prominent Buffalo Developer and recent gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino has long been a strong Trump advocate. The Carl wields a good deal of influence in local financial and political circles and that influence extends statewide. The Erie County Republican Party recently held a straw poll that gave Trump a big win and though Rubio is probably the local donations leader, win or lose, Donald Trump calls New York home. Still, Mr. Collins’ endorsement is likely very much in line with local Republican sentiment and his own right of center philosophy. Carl Paladino carried most of Western New York in his tea party bid for the governor’s seat, and the race for the Republican presidential nomination, thus far, has proven ideal for Trump’s brand of politics.
On the Democratic side, the former Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, is very much at home in Erie County and she will have a lot of people on the ground prior to the April 19 New York primary. She will also have the full support of the Erie County Democratic machine, and presumably remains on good terms with Steve Pigeon, a very effective fundraiser and “bundler” for the Clinton faction. The former Mayor of Burlington, former Congressman, current Senator Bernie Sanders, is familiar with New York and with anti-establishment fervor. Sanders must eventually demonstrate a broad popular mandate if he is to overcome a structural disadvantage from the Clintons’ decades at the top of the Democratic hierarchy. Hillary’s strong showing in South Carolina adds emphasis to the fact that, notwithstanding his longstanding advocacy of civil rights, Bernie seems to be gaining little traction among minority voters.
The day following Congressman Collins’ endorsement announcement, a Democratic challenger announced her intention of opposing Chris Collins in the 27th Congressional District. Batavia resident Diana Kastenbaum is the CEO of Pinnacle Manufacturing, Inc., a small zinc and and aluminum die casting manufacturing company. Usually, in a presidential election year, heavy turnout in urban areas favors Democratic candidates, but this election season is unlike any in memory. The Republican base nationally is engaged and energized. In Erie County, even the Democratic electorate, including the minority one, is largely conservative on several topics. Religion and church membership have been strong organizing elements here for generations. There has been , too, historically a strongly progressive influence in Buffalo, particularly among younger voters, organized labor, and intellectual elites, that was once a significant element of local Democratic Party politics. The local numbers on both sides will provide an interesting look at national trends prior to the July conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia.