Collins entered the GOP primary for the 27th Congressional District and defeated Army veteran David Bellavia, who would later become the first living American to receive the Medal of Honor for service in the Iraq War, 60-40. Hochul put up a strong fight, but Mitt Romney’s 55-43 victory in the seat helped propel Collins to a narrow 51-49 win.
Collins found himself in an embarrassing situation before he was even sworn in after he accidentally crashed a Democratic caucus meeting. A Democratic staffer recounted to Roll Call, “When they welcomed Leader Pelosi and everyone stood up to applaud, a frantic new member got up — breakfast plate in hand—rushed over to me and asked, 'Wait ... what meeting is this?!'” After the new member, who was soon identified as Collins, was told he was in the Democratic caucus, he responded, “Oh shit I'm in the wrong meeting. Where are the Republicans meeting?”
However, Collins soon settled into the GOP caucus, and he didn’t attract much attention for another few years. In February 2016, though, Collins and California Rep. Duncan Hunter, who is awaiting sentencing in a completely separate scandal, became the first two members of Congress to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential bid. Trump went on to carry Collins’ seat in a 60-35 landslide.
There was talk that Collins could wind up in the Trump cabinet or even as his chief of staff, but he stayed in the House. The congressman soon got bad headlines in 2017 when the Office of Congressional Ethics released a report saying there was "substantial reason to believe" that he "shared material nonpublic information" about an Australian biotech company he'd invested heavily in—in other words, engaged in insider trading—and Collins' $17 million investment was wiped out last year when the company's lone drug failed in clinical trials.
Collins hadn’t faced a serious threat since he defeated Hochul, but he picked up a stronger than usual Democratic challenge in 2018 from Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray. However, the incumbent still looked safe until he was arrested for insider trading in August. Collins, who was indicted along with his son and potential successor, Cameron Collins, immediately pled not guilty and called the charges “meritless,” but he soon announced that he was dropping his re-election campaign.
However, Collins’ decision came well after the New York primary had passed, and state law made it very difficult for him to get off the ballot. While one election law expert, Alan Goldston, wryly observed, “If he really wanted to get off the ballot he could just plead guilty” because political parties are allowed to replace candidates who are convicted of crimes, the congressman didn’t take this option. After a month of uncertainty, the incumbent declared that he would seek re-election after all.
Collins quickly turned to xenophobia to win a fourth term and ran a commercial showing footage of McMurray speaking in Korean, and the on-screen text alleged that the candidate "[h]elped American companies hire foreign workers" and led to fewer jobs for American and more jobs "for China and Korea." McMurray used the original video, which he’d since pulled down, to talk about his hopes for peace between North and South Korea, but the Collins ad instead implied that he was bragging about shipping jobs overseas.
The indicted Collins defeated McMurray, but by just a slim 49.1-48.7 margin. The Democrat soon made it clear he’d run again if Collins was on the ballot, and several other Republicans also announced in 2019 that they’d challenge the congressman for renomination. Collins sounded ready to stay and fight for a fifth term, but all that changed in late September when he resigned and soon pleaded guilty.
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