Dems say they’ll sue to keep Collins on ballot

Democrats are threatening to take the GOP to court to keep Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsIndicted GOP lawmaker to stay on ballot in New York this fall: report Live coverage: Cuomo, Nixon face off in high-stakes New York primary Hoyer lays out government reform blueprint MORE (R-N.Y.), who’s been charged with insider trading, on the November ballot.

New York Democrats believe they have a better shot of flipping the red, Buffalo-area seat if the embattled congressman’s name stays on the ballot, and they want to keep Republicans from replacing him with a potentially less toxic candidate.

“Our contention and a lot of people’s contention is this is fraudulent to get him off the ballot,” Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner told The Hill on Tuesday.

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“This is borderline fraud,” Zellner added. “It is too late to get him off the ballot.”

Federal officials last week arrested and charged Collins with securities fraud related to his involvement with an Australian pharmaceuticals company, giving Democrats hope they could win a GOP-held seat that wasn't even on campaign officials’ radar days ago.

In 2016, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE beat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton: FBI investigation into Kavanaugh could be done quickly Hillary Clinton urges Americans to 'check and reject' Trump's 'authoritarian tendencies' by voting in midterms EXCLUSIVE: Trump says exposing ‘corrupt’ FBI probe could be ‘crowning achievement’ of presidency MORE in the western New York district by nearly 25 percentage points.

But in a surprise announcement over the weekend, Collins, 68, said he was suspending his campaign for reelection in New York’s 27th District, even as he vowed to fight the charges. That sent Empire State GOP leaders scrambling to find a way to remove him from the ballot — no easy feat due to New York’s archaic election laws.

New York election experts say there are only three ways someone can be removed from the ballot this late in the game: If the candidate runs for another office, moves out of state or dies.

More than a dozen local Republicans are now vying to replace Collins on the ballot, including Stefan Mychajliw, the Erie County comptroller; Carl Paladino, the Trump ally and former gubernatorial candidate; and four state senators.

GOP party bosses from the eight counties in Collins’s district have been consulting with elections attorneys and will huddle Tuesday night to plot a way forward.

“It’s very limited, and I’m sure the one option of death is something [Collins] doesn’t want to explore,” Ralph Mohr, the Republican Erie County elections commissioner, told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper.

One option would be for Collins to run for a local judgeship to fulfill the rule of running for another office, but Collins doesn’t hold a law degree.

Party bosses could try to convince some local officeholder to resign and then have Collins run for that seat. But Democratic officials indicated they would launch a legal challenge if Republicans go that route.

Republicans “have known that he was under investigation; they should have realized there could have been trouble all along,” said Zellner, the local Democratic chairman.

He said the GOP is stuck with Collins “because of their mismanagement of this situation.”

“Whatever they plan on doing should be challenged,” he said.

Well before last Wednesday’s indictment, Nate McMurray, the Democrat nominated to challenge Collins, said he had hammered Republicans for defending Collins as he faced a serious House Ethics probe into his dealings with Sydney-based Innate Immunotherapeutics.

Collins, who sat on Innate’s board and had been its top shareholder, had openly bragged about getting members of Congress to invest in the company and making "many millionaires" in Buffalo.

“Republicans are trying to avoid accountability for propping this guy up,” McMurray, the 43-year-old town supervisor of Grand Island, N.Y., told The Hill in a phone interview Tuesday from South Buffalo. “It’s a bait and switch. They will have to use some Byzantine maneuver to get this to work.

“I think these guys should be held accountable. They shouldn’t be able to hit reset or take a mulligan,” McMurray added. “If they try to get him to run for another office, I will call it out for what it is: a fraud upon the United States.”

While McMurray said he doesn’t want to focus on any potential litigation, Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas Langworthy said he anticipates the fight will end up in the courts.

“Of course they're going to litigate," Langworthy told The Buffalo News. "We fully expect them to bring every lawyer in the country in here if they have to to fight this. They want to win this congressional seat on a fluke.”

McMurray, who was speaking with union workers Tuesday in South Buffalo, said regardless of who Republicans run against him, the energy and momentum is on his side.

Since Collins’s indictment last week, McMurray has been fielding dozens of calls from national political reporters, campaign officials in Washington and volunteers who are suddenly interested in the race.  

“The biggest problem I have right now is to figure out how to mobilize all these volunteers, because this is a golden opportunity,” he said. “I used to say this is David vs. Goliath. Well, Goliath just got a lot smaller and David just got a lot bigger.”

Some New York strategists have speculated that Collins still could win reelection if his name stays on the ballot, due to the enormous GOP advantage in the district. But if that happened and Collins resigned his seat, McMurray said in the interview he’d run again in a special election.

“Yes, I would,” McMurray told The Hill. “I’m in this to win it.”