- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2018

The two men were indicted a couple of months ago — and now each is likely just weeks away from winning re-election.

Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York are both favored to win their races and return to Capitol Hill next year despite the legal cloud that hangs over them.

Mr. Hunter, who faces charges of siphoning campaign funds to use for personal expenses such as trips is leading in polling in his race — albeit by smaller margins than he has received in past victorious elections.

And Mr. Collins, charged with an insider-trading scheme, holds a slim lead in polling in his district, with voters saying they’re not so much thrilled with Mr. Collins as they are eager to back someone who will support President Trump.

“Collins and Hunter are enjoying the benefit of running for re-election in districts that match their party identification,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan election tracker. “They could still lose, but the Republican lean of their seats might be enough to drag them across the finish line.”

Mr. Collins stands accused of tipping off his son and others to dump stock in a pharmaceutical company after it saw its marquee drug fail a trial, a fact about which he had pre-public knowledge. Several people involved in the word-of-mouth chain have already accepted punishments.

Mr. Hunter was indicted by a grand jury in San Diego that charged him and his wife with using $250,000 in campaign donations to pay for family vacations and such extravagances as video games and pet flights.

Both lawmakers are fighting the charges in court cases that will likely overlap with their time in Congress should they win re-election.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sees Mr. Collins as a top target, adding his challenger Nate McMurray, to its “Red to Blue” list of key races that could determine the majority in the new Congress.

Hunter opponent Ammar Campa-Najjar, meanwhile, has received the backing of progressive groups — including Our Revolution and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Still, political analysis say the embattled Republicans are favored to survive.

In the case of Mr. Collins, Jacob Neiheisel, political science professor at the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences, said it is not so much that Republicans are rallying behind the incumbent as they are rallying against Democrats.

“What is driving this is pure district composition.” Mr. Neiheisel said. “It is a pretty heavy Republican district. That coupled with the polarization is driving people to vote Republican — not necessarily for the candidate.”

A Siena Poll released last week showed Mr. Collins held a lead of 46 percent to 43 percent, with voters giving Mr. Trump high marks and saying by an 18 percentage-point margin they would rather have the GOP control Congress.

“This is the most Republican congressional district in blue New York,” said Steven Greenberg, the Siena pollster.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hunter, who was elected in 2008 to the seat that his father of the same name held for nearly 30 years, held a solid lead in the latest survey from Monmouth University.

“One in 10 voters in this district think Hunter is probably guilty of campaign fraud, but they are going to vote for him anyway,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “I know this is a deep red district, but you’ve got to wonder if this isn’t taking partisan loyalty to a new extreme.”

It’s not just the GOP. The same factors are at work for Democrats in New Jersey, where Sen. Robert Menendez went free after a hung jury was unable to convict him of corruption charges last year.

New Jersey voters have an overwhelmingly negative view of him — but are poised to re-elect him next month over GOP challenger Bob Hugin.

Shawn Steel, a member of the Republican National Committee from California, said Mr. Hunter has been able to overcome the negative headlines in part because Mr. Campa-Najjar is too liberal for the district.

“That is a very Republican district with a lot of military retirees,” he said.

The Hunter campaign was happy to learn that Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, a champion for progressive causes, was set to rally with Mr. Campa-Najjar later this week.

“That is good news for us,” said Michael Harrison, a spokesman for Mr. Hunter. “It just highlights more of the agenda that our opponent has and that doesn’t fit with our district whatsoever.”

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