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Collins' Trump support draws big slate of opponents

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Republican House Representative Chris Collins has a target on his back.

He was the first member of Congress to support President Donald Trump's 2016 run, and since then, he's been a full-throated supporter. He's defended Trump's orders blocking the entry of immigrants and refugees, and when the president called on GOP Congress members to pass new tax laws and repeal Obamacare, Collins backed him up.

The health care effort failed; the tax plan did not. And since the tax bill passed and went into effect, Collins has had a public war of words with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who says that GOP leaders' claims to the contrary, the plan will actually increase many New Yorkers' tax burdens.

All of this has riled up Democrats and progressive activists in Collins' 27th Congressional District, and inevitably several have lined up to run against him. Right now the field is five candidates deep, all of whom will address party members and the public during a Thursday, February 1, forum at the MacVitte College Union on the SUNY Geneseo Campus. The forum starts at 6:30 p.m.

Collins' potential Democratic challengers include Nathan McMurray, Grand Island supervisor and attorney for Delaware North; Sean Bunny, a veteran and a prosecutor in the Erie County District Attorney's Office; Nick Stankevich, a Mumford entrepreneur who also helps his family operate the Genesee Country Inn Bed and Breakfast; Joan Elizabeth Seamans, a business owner and former Williamsville village trustee; and Tom Casey, a community activist and retired water supply and treatment engineer.

Collins also faces potential Republican challengers Jim Banks, who works in industrial sales, and Larry Piegza, who owns a software company and refers to himself as a "Never Trump Republican."

The field is much less crowded in the 25th Congressional District, where Democratic House Representation Louise Slaughter is gearing up to run for her 17th term.

Slaughter faces a challenge from Dr. James Maxwell, a neurosurgeon who's seeking the Republican line on the November ballot. Maxwell hasn't held office before, nor has he run for it. His catchphrase: "It doesn't take a brain surgeon to know Congress is broken – but it just might take one to fix it."

But the fact that Maxwell is a political unknown seems to be working for him. Republican Gates Supervisor Mark Assini abandoned plans to challenge Slaughter for a third time after the Monroe County Conservative Party endorsed Maxwell.

Assini had already scheduled an event at the Italian American Community Center to announce his candidacy, which he used to instead tell his supporters about his change of course. He said that just days before the event, the Conservative Party hand-delivered a letter to him breaking the news. The letter said that the Conservative Party believed Maxwell provided the best chance to defeat Slaughter, Assini said after his announcement.

Slaughter has trounced opponent after opponent since she won her first House race in 1986; while Assini's 2014 bid brought him closer to defeating Slaughter than any previous candidate, Slaughter scored a decisive victory in their 2016 rematch.

But 2018 is the Trump era: a turbulent, bewildering political environment. Maxwell could tap into a populist vein and ride a wave of voters determined to vote for anyone except someone who's been in Congress for a while.

Or district Democrats and progressives, who've watched the actions of the White House and the Republican Congress with horror and rage, could prove to be a motivated group and sweep Slaughter back into office.

November's still a long way off.

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