Republican insiders have been prodding State Senator Chris Jacobs to challenge Rep. Brian Higgins in New York’s 26th congressional district. But the two-term Senator has already announced his intentions to seek the 27th congressional district, which was vacated with the guilty plea of former Rep. Chris Collins — and it may take some work to walk back that early announcement.
Jacobs is a moderate who never endorsed President Donald J. Trump‘s candidacy. His critics in the party call him a ‘never-Tumper’, and his electoral successes to date have largely taken place in the neighboring 26th district — including two runs for State Senate and two runs for Erie County Clerk, all landslides in his favor.
Party operatives believe that his moderate policy positions and deep roots in the community would make the 26th district competitive. There is an 11 point Democrat advantage in the district, according to the Cook Political Index. Jacobs supports reducing carbon emissions and sensible gun control measures, earning him an 84% rating from the Conservative Party. The 27th district leans to the Republicans by 11 points.
State Senator Robert Ortt is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a purple heart recipient who received a 100% rating from the Conservative Party. Ortt is widely seen as a much stronger candidate for such a conservative and rural district, where gun rights are of paramount concern to voters and where military service is greatly revered.
Prognosticators posit that Jacobs would be likely to lose the 27th district, because his candidacy would almost certainly invite a third-party candidate from the right. That was Kathy Hochul‘s winning strategy when political operative Curtis Ellis orchestrated Jack Davis‘ anti-free trade splinter candidacy on the Tea Party line, which thwarted Jane Corwin‘s congressional bid following the resignation of Chris Lee. The Erie County Libertarian Party is already planning to endorse Duane Whitmer in the 27th district.
But Jacobs could be a steller candidate in the more urban 26th district, and New York State Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy would much prefer an opportunity to win both seats by running a conservative in the conservative district and a moderate in the left-leaning district.
Langworthy has filed a lawsuit against Governor Andrew Cuomo for failing to call a special election until April 14, when the Democratic Party has scheduled its New York presidential primary election. Cuomo figures that will help the Democratic candidate, given that Democrat turnout is expected to be higher than Republicans, because of the presidential nominating contest.
Republican county chairs will have to agree to a nominee among themselves for the special election on April 14. There will be a primary for the congressional seat just months later on June 23rd, when voters will be able to select from candidates who don’t receive the endorsement of the party bosses — making for some unique political dynamics.
Down ballot races in the 26th district concern Republicans
Local Republican operatives argue that, for the party to even have a remote chance of retaking control of the State Senate chamber, a strong candidate in the 26th congressional district is necessary to buoy down-ballot Senate and Assembly contest.
In order for Republicans to retain control of the 60th, 61st, and 62nd district — all of which are being vacated by their incumbents this year — a strong congressional contender is needed to project moderate Republican (but still pro-Trump) brand appeal in Democrat-enrolled areas of the 26th district. Jacob’s considerable local brand awareness could help carry Republican Senate contenders in the Tonawandas, Amherst, and Niagara Falls.
Jennifer Stergion is likely to seek the Republican nomination for the 60th Senate district; while Ed Rath and Jane Corwin are seen as potential nominees in the 61st district; and Niagara County Republicans consider whether to send former State Senator George Maziarz back to that chamber — likely as leader of the caucus.
Sean Ryan is vacating the 149th Assembly seat to run in the Democratic nominating primary in the 60th Senate district, where he is likely to face either Buffalo Councilman Joe Golombek or Joel Feroletto. Republicans are coalescing around former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra for the 149th Assembly seat.
Robin Schimminger, who was elected to the Assembly in 1976, is retiring from the 140th district seat. Democrat Party boss Jeremy Zellner and North Tonawanda Alderman At-Large Austin Tylec, a registered Independent, may battle for the seat. Some Republicans have been prodding Tylec to run on the Republican line, given his popularity and cross-party appeal in the Tonawandas.
And, if Maziarz declines a return to the State Senate, Assemblyman Angelo Morinello would become a clear favorite for that 60th district seat — which would create another scramble for his 145th Assembly district seat in Grand Island and Niagara Falls.