In New York 27th, a Fierce GOP Congressional Primary Rages

David Bellavia, Christopher Collins fight to take on incumbent Democrat in Republican district

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Candidates in New York's 27th Congressional District may have gotten a late start since redistricting wasn't finalized until late March, but that hasn't stopped GOP candidates Christopher Collins and David Bellavia from waging a tough campaign against one another in the Republican primary scheduled for June 26.

Bellavia, a decorated Iraq war veteran whose heroism was documented in a Pulitzer Prize-winning Time magazine story, is operating on a shoestring. Recent campaign finance reports show that Bellavia has raised just over $31,000 this campaign season. But a lack of financial backing hasn't kept him off the campaign trail. [Poll: Veterans Overwhelmingly Support Romney Over Obama.]

"I am ripping my feet apart, and I am putting miles on my car," Bellavia says.

Bellavia, whose campaign cannot afford modern-day staples of elections like polls or television advertisements, says he is using the skills he has learned as a public speaker to up his name recognition in New York's 27th. Bellavia believes the best way to connect with voters is to meet them face to face.

"I have been to flea markets, garage sales, barbecues, and parades. I went to a graduation party," Bellavia says. "Whenever I see a group of people congregating on the side of the road, I get out of my car and meet them."

A campaign operative says Bellavia's headstrong campaigning never stops.

Of the eight counties in the district, Bellavia's earned the endorsements of Livingston, Orleans, and Wyoming counties' Republican parties. The other counties have yet to endorse a candidate or have said they are not endorsing anyone this primary season.

This is Bellavia's first run for political office, but the candidate is no stranger to politics. Bellavia helped found Vets for Freedom, a political advocacy group that donates money and resources to candidates who support continuing the so-called War on Terror. Vets for Freedom was active in the 2010 congressional campaign with its "Operation 10-in-10" campaign.

Collins is a wealthy candidate whose has self-financed his campaign to the tune of $230,000. Collins spent 36 years in the private sector as a small business owner in western New York before he was elected in 2007 as Erie County executive. There he earned a reputation as a strong fiscal conservative. During his four years in office, Collins saved the county $72 million a year by cutting 1,200 county jobs and reduced the county's debt by more than $120 million. [Read: Romney Ready to Claim GOP Nomination After Texas]

"I have a resume and credibility creating jobs. I have credibility in reducing government," Collins says. "We did so well I started paying cash for capital projects."

Collins lost re-election, however, last November.

Collins's congressional campaign got a boost after he earned the endorsement of New York's Conservative Party.

"He cut the size of government, managed in a conservative manner, and in Erie County it is a tough lift to do that," says New York Conservative Party Chairman Michael R. Long. "He had a proven record--and not that Bellavia is a bad guy. We had the wealth of two good candidates, but Collins would be more competitive against the congresswoman."

New York's 27th District was already one of the most conservative districts in the state before redistricting. In 2008, 54 percent of voters there cast ballots for GOP presidential candidate John McCain and in 2004, 56 percent of the district voted for President George W. Bush.

After new lines were drawn, many of the area's suburban neighborhoods were replaced by rural ones, giving Republicans an even greater advantage there.

Nat Sillin, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, says both candidates are strong and no matter who wins, the NRCC will pledge its full-fledged support to winning New York's 27th back. [Bitter Primaries Undercut GOP Hopes.]

"We are very bullish on the district," Sillin says. "There are two good candidates. We will wait and see what happens. We are certainly optimistic about our opportunity."