Republican Rep. Chris Collins' arrest and indictment on insider trading charges Wednesday suddenly makes his safe red congressional district a lot more interesting in November's midterm elections.
The New York 27th District, lodged between Buffalo and Rochester in the western part of the state, has grown more Republican since Collins first won it narrowly in 2012. The area backed President Donald Trump by nearly 25 percentage points in 2016, while Collins breezed to re-election with about 67 percent of the vote.
The stain of the insider trading accusations quickly makes the district more competitive — although it still favors Republicans. Regardless, the GOP cannot afford another contested seat in the state as it fights to stop Democrats from winning the 23 Republican-held seats the party needs to take a House majority.
Nonpartisan election analysis sites Cook Political Report and Sabato's Crystal Ball moved their ratings for the district to "likely" Republican from "solid" "safe" Republican, respectively, on Wednesday. A scandal can cause a 10- to 12-percentage-point swing and Collins' arrest is "perhaps on the more severe side," tweeted Nate Silver, data guru and editor in chief of analytics site FiveThirtyEight.
Collins pleaded not guilty to the charges on Wednesday. In an email to supporters earlier in the day, the representative said his "focus is to defeat these charges in court" and that he will "not address any issues related" to the accusations outside of the courtroom, according to New York Times reporter Shane Goldmacher. Collins stressed that he does not plan to abandon his re-election bid as of now.
"As I fight to clear my name, rest assured that I will continue to work hard for the people of the 27th Congressional District of New York while remaining on the ballot for reelection this November," he wrote.
Collins appears likely to stay on the ballot: relevant periods to give up a party nomination have passed, according to the New York State Board of Elections. The deadline for a special election under New York law has also passed.
Liberals seized on the news of Collins' arrest almost immediately. The New York Working Families Party started to raise money for the Democratic candidate in the race, Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray. The party said, "We can defeat this corrupt Trump Republican and win this seat in November." Collins was Trump's first supporter in Congress during the 2016 campaign.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also contended that "this seat is firmly in play for Democrats."
On the other side of the aisle, the GOP indicated that it was taking the matter seriously. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called for a "prompt and thorough" investigation into the allegations and removed Collins from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
"Insider trading is a clear violation of the public trust," Ryan said in a statement.