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Meet Chris Collins, the First Member of Congress to Back Trump

Both are Republicans and both come from Democratic leaning states. And their endorsement gives insight into who makes up Trump’s base of supporters.
Image: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters after being declared by the television networks as the winner of the Nevada Republican caucuses.JIM YOUNG / Reuters

Eight months after launching his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has picked up his first Congressional endorsements.

Who are these members who have come out of the gate early for Trump? Both are Republicans and both come from Democratic leaning states. One is Rep. Chris Collins, a businessman from Western New York and the other is Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Marine veteran representing a district near San Diego. California. And their endorsement gives insight into who makes up Trump’s base of supporters.

Rep. Chris Collins: Jobs

Rep. Chris Collins represents New York’s 27th Congressional District, which includes the suburbs of Buffalo and rural areas that spread as far west as Rochester. It’s a conservative part of the state, supporting Mitt Romney over President Obama 55 percent to 43 percent four years ago.

But this is not your tea party district. Collins won his election in 2012 in a close race: 51 – 49 percent. His district is a hot bed of white working class Catholic conservatism

But it has seen really hard times economically as manufacturing jobs were shipped overseas.

“We’ve had absolute devastation,” Collins said in an interview with NBC News Wednesday. “There was just no growth.”

Collins was an early backer of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. While he stuck with Bush until the end, Collins began looking at other candidates and concluded that Trump is the candidate who can bring jobs back to the country and challenge China over currency manipulation and trade.

And Collins said Trump can “make America great again,” parroting Trump’s slogan. “The most important thing is jobs,” Collins said.

Jobs not political ideology, Collins said.

Collins has a history of working with Democrats. He voted for the recent budget bill in October that only received 79 Republican votes. Collins, like many Democrats – and Donald Trump - is also is opposed to the latest trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Like Trump Collins is a former businessman. And Collins likes that about Trump. He’s not concerned about Trump’s lack of policy detail.

“It starts with a vision and the high level commitment,” Collins said about job creation. “It’s problem-solving 101.”

Collins’ support could signify what could prove to be Trump’s strength: his ability to win in white working class areas in Rust Belt states that have trended Democratic in presidential elections.

Rep. Duncan Hunter: Immigration

Rep. Duncan Hunter represents California’s 50th Congressional district which encompasses the inland part of the state near San Diego. It’s a conservative area rich with military veterans that went for Romney over Obama 60 – 38 percent.

While it’s majority white, it’s nearly 30 percent Latino. Because of its proximity to the U.S.-Mexican border, immigration tends to be a hot button issue.

Hunter is an ardent defense hawk who is also in favor of aggressive border control, including a new fence in vulnerable areas. His district has also lost some of its manufacturing base to overseas competitors which make Trump’s anti-globalization views appealing.

Hunter told Politico of Trump, “We don't need a policy wonk as president. We need a leader as president."

Unlike other areas of Trump support in the South and West, this district lacks evangelicals or social conservatives; it can be considered working class. It supports small government conservatism.

Hunter is certainly not a moderate member of the House, though he has backed the Republican leadership in large scale legislation like transportation and highway bills.

His endorsement shows Trump’s strength with military veterans and those who oppose a more open immigration policy, the types of voters Trump would need to compete in Nevada, Virginia and North Carolina.