The tweet that changed the complexion of the NY-27 congressional race had barely reached all of the followers of @repchriscollins before Republicans with aspirations to serve in Congress started declaring their interest in replacing Rep. Chris Collins on the GOP line of the November ballot.
Dick Siebert, chair of the GOP in Genesee County, said he's already heard from three candidates, including two from Batavia -- Steve Hawley and David Bellavia.
It will be up to the county chairs in the NY-27 -- given that the primary season is already past and it's less than three months to Election Day -- to pick whose name goes on the R line instead of Collins.
That is if a legal way can be found to get the incumbent's name off the ballot. Possibilities include, or so we are told, finding another elected office to appoint Collins to, such as a judgeship, or having Collins declare permanent residency in Florida.
"My reaction?" Siebert said when asked for his reaction to Collins suspending his campaign. "I was relieved that he did it. It was the right thing to do."
This morning, well before Collins announced he was getting out of the race, The Batavian interviewed Michael Caputo, a GOP political consultant from Buffalo and a close ally of President Donald Trump. Caputo talked at length about all the ways Collins staying in the race harmed Republicans and threatened the very survival of Trump's presidency.
"The scandal and prosecution are in small but profound ways a bad reflection on the president," Caputo said. "I don't think Chris Collins will ever darken the doorstep of the Oval Office again."
The president, Caputo said, learned a powerful lesson when he looked past allegations against Judge Roy Moore in the run-up to his Alabama Senate race about the Republican candidate's reputation for chasing teenage girls.
Caputo said the closer he gets to Collins at this point, the greater the risk it will blow back in his face and he doesn't want a repeat of the Roy Moore fiasco.
"The president is inclined to look past mere partisan allegations because he weathers so many of those himself, but this 30-page indictment of the wealthy trying to preserve their wealth, it's a terrible look in the New York 27th, where the vast majority of voters are low to middle class on the economic scale," Caputo said.
It was Caputo who first introduced Trump to Collins in 2014 when Trump was considering a run for governor. Collins endeared himself to Trump during the 2016 campaign by being such a strong defender of Trump in television appearances but all that goodwill evaporated when Collins was arrested.
Then Collins became a liability, both because of the perception of his close proximity to the president, and because there is a recognizable danger of Republicans losing control of the House in the midterms.
"It may boil down to one or two seats," Caputo said before we knew Collins was dropping out of the race. "It may boil down to Nate McMurray and Chris Collins. If we lose control of the house, there will be impeachment proceedings, no doubt about it."
In an analysis of data about scandal-plagued incumbents running for reelection, the political prognostication site 538 gives Collins a slender 2 or 3 percentage point chance of winning the election in November.
With the race potentially cut down to a margin of two or three points, Caputo thought it would be a hard race for Collins to win without an energized base. He was already seeing rank-and-file party leadership peeling away from Collins since his arrest.
Collins would not be able to run an effective campaign without squarely addressing the allegations, which at his Wednesday press conference he was unwilling to do, Caputo said. Every time he appeared in public, the press would be there and the lasting image, if Collins wouldn't answer questions, would be of him running away from reporters.
And his own supporters wouldn't have been willing to defend him, then, in their neighbor-to-neighbor conversations.
"One by one, they (would) drop away and in the end, he (wouldn't) have the people to mount an effective get-out-the-vote effort," Caputo said.
That is the kind of tough-love analysis Collins probably heeded when he said in his withdrawal statement, "After extensive discussions with my family and my friends over the last few days, I have decided that it is in the best interests of the constituents of NY-27, the Republican Party and President Trump’s agenda for me to suspend my campaign for reelection to Congress."
The process for picking GOP congressional candidates for the GLOW region is heavily weighted toward Erie County and that process over the past decades has given us: Tom Reynolds, who retired under a cloud of scandals involving Rep. Mark Foley and the treasurer of National Republican Congressional Committee while Reynolds was chair; Chris Lee, who resigned after he was reportedly trolling for transgender women on Craigslist; and now, Chris Collins, accused of insider trading.
It's too soon to know if there are other GLOW-based candidates who might be interested in the seat beside Hawley and Bellavia, but there are Hawley and Bellavia.
Steve Hawley, a six-term member of the state Assembly, was born and raised in Batavia, is a farmer, local business owner and was a member of the Ohio Army National Guard and the United States Army Reserves.
"Collins has suspended his campaign, whatever that means, but it's not clear if that means his name stays on the ballot or there may be some way to get his name off the ballot," Hawley said. "If that were to occur, I am proud to continue serving and helping people at any level of government and this is something I will look at if it comes up and certainly make a strong push for it."
David Bellavia was born and raised in Buffalo but is a longtime resident of Batavia. He is an American Iraq War veteran who was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the Second Battle of Fallujah, along with other military awards and honors. He is currently a talk show cohost on WBEN. He lost a 2012 primary race to Collins, though he beat Collins in every county but Erie and Niagara.
"This is something I've dedicated 10 years of my life to doing," Bellavia said. "I'm committed myself since 2012 to correct my deficiencies in Erie and Niagara counties. I'm ready to run."