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Don't look now, but there's a real live GOP primary under way for the new 27th Congressional District.

Republicans, of course, aren't supposed to claw and scratch each other in primaries. That's for the other guys.

But nails are out in the contest between former County Executive Chris Collins and Iraq War veteran David Bellavia for the right to take on Democratic incumbent Kathy Hochul this fall.

It all started when the Orleans County Republican Committee endorsed Bellavia on March 29. Collins supporters were unfazed. Orleans, they said, is Bellavia turf. His family is from there. No big deal.

But then Livingston County, despite the Collins support expressed by Chairman Lowell Conrad, came in for Bellavia. Wyoming County followed. And Monroe County Republican Chairman Bill Reilich made it clear he was not a Collins guy.

It got worse. Sen. George Maziarz, a major figure in Niagara County politics, strongly endorsed Bellavia. And the former county executive got no help when the Niagara and Ontario organizations -- as well as the hometown crew in Erie County -- said they would endorse nobody.

Michael Caputo, the former Carl Paladino spokesman now signed on with Bellavia, says it shows Collins is not as popular as he thinks -- especially in the GLOW (Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming) counties. They show, he said, that Bellavia will prove competitive against the Collins name and bankroll.

"The GLOW counties are uniting behind David Bellavia and it's going to turn out to be Erie standing alone," Caputo said.

There's a reason for this. It hearkens to the Collins role in the 2011 congressional candidacy of his friend and supporter -- Assemblywoman Jane Corwin. Top Republicans in those outlying counties, not used to losing, are still smarting over dropping a seat they were supposed to win.

And when the same campaign team accompanied the county executive to defeat last November, most GLOW types thought the Collins era had ended.

But as we've noted before -- he's baaaaack. And he knows he has a fight on his hands.

He now wears that grand total of zero Republican endorsements in the eight-county district as a badge of honor.

"I'm not a favorite of the political insiders and this is political insiders working overtime to prevent me from being the next congressman," he said a few days ago. "And George Maziarz is leading the pack."

Indeed, Maziarz has proven a persistent pol in recent days. He is locked in a bitter war with Chairman Ralph Lorigo over the Erie County Conservative Party's nod toward Democrat Chuck Swanick instead of Republican incumbent Mark Grisanti in the State Senate. And it's no secret Maziarz and Collins do not exchange Christmas cards.

"The senator has a long-standing relationship with the Bellavia family and he made his choice based on those personal relationships," explained Niagara County Republican Chairman Mike Norris, who calls a GOP primary "healthy."

Norris added, "It allows us to really focus on the goal of defeating Kathy Hochul."

Some also suggest the former county executive might have snared an endorsement or two if he weren't vacationing in Florida over the past few days.

"My family comes first before campaigning," Collins said. "And I wasn't going to get those endorsements anyway. It was a stacked deck."

Collins likes the role of independent Republican as the June 26 primary nears. He says he cares not a whit about endorsements.

"Some people collect baseball cards," he said. "David collects political endorsements."

Let the games begin.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com