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Democrats continue to lag badly in local congressional fundraising

WASHINGTON – The Democratic candidates hoping to oust Western New York's two Republican House members, Reps. Chris Collins and Tom Reed, continue to struggle financially while the two incumbents sit on million-dollar campaign war chests.

Collins' Democratic opponent, Grand Island Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray, reported $81,772 on hand as of June 30, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission that were due Sunday. Collins, a lawmaker from Clarence bidding for a fourth term, had $1.34 million.

Things are even worse for Tracy Mitrano, a Yates County lawyer and cybersecurity expert who won a five-way primary last month to take on Reed, a Republican from Corning aiming for a fifth full term.

Mitrano spent most of her money on the primary, leaving her with $7,875 on hand along with $12,500 in debt at the end of June. Reed, meanwhile, reported a campaign fund that totaled $1.27 million.

The numbers in the two races seem to indicate that in a year when Democrats nationwide expect to do well in House races, the Democrats in Western New York may struggle to raise the money to deliver their message in fall television ads.

In a phone interview, McMurray pretty much admitted just that.

"It is what it is. My donors are not his donors," McMurray said. "It's David versus Goliath. It's me against the world."

McMurray's campaign finance report showed that he raised $133,975 in the first half of the year and spent $50,927 of it. The majority of McMurray's fundraising consisted of small individual donations.

While Western New York Democratic leaders have rallied around McMurray's candidacy, the Democratic National Congressional Committee – the national panel created to boost Democratic House candidates – has not. And McMurray made clear that he is not at all happy with the national Democrats for ignoring his campaign.

"They've got algorithms and a spreadsheet, and they don't see what we see," he said. Namely, strong turnout at campaign events in places such as Mount Morris, where, McMurray said, 200 people recently turned out to see him. He said his campaign will be a test of whether "old-fashioned grass-roots campaigning" combined with social media can beat a Collins campaign likely to be driven by television ads.

McMurray raised more than twice as much money in the second quarter than he did in the first. But his relatively small campaign war chest matters because he is taking on Collins in New York's 27th District, a largely suburban and rural swath of land between Buffalo and Rochester that, in political terms, generally calls for television commercials in two media markets.

In contrast to McMurray, Collins pulled in $1.31 million for his re-election campaign as of June 30, with $691,872 of it coming from political action committees. PACs representing the health care and telecommunications industries once were among Collins' main donors.

“We are proud of our fundraising and the folks throughout the district who want to keep Chris working for them in Washington," said Bryan Piligra, a spokesman for the Collins campaign. "Whether it’s standing up to the radical left or standing with President Trump to protect American jobs, Chris is humbled by the support his campaign is receiving.”

Mitrano proved to be a much more adept fundraiser than McMurray. She raised $193,963 in campaign funds as of June 30, with all but $100 of the contributions coming from individuals. The trouble is, her campaign ended the first half of the year in debt after spending down her campaign kitty to win a narrow primary victory in New York's 23rd District, which includes much of the Southern Tier and part of the Finger Lakes region.

Nevertheless, Mitrano expressed little concern about her campaign finances, indicated that they will bounce back, based on what she's already proven.

“I am grateful for the 3,300+ individual contributions to date from supporters who have empowered my campaign to put people first and bring economic opportunity back to NY-23,” Mitrano said. “After a close primary and protracted absentee ballot counting period, my team is ready to ramp up and take on Tom Reed in November."

Reed, meanwhile, continued adding to his campaign war chest, raising a whopping $2.63 million for his re-election as of June 30. Some $1.46 million of Reed's money came from PACs. Political committees representing financial firms were among Reed's most common donors.

“Our continued growth gives us the resources and grassroots support to highlight Tom’s record of caring, practical leadership,” said Nicholas Weinstein, Reed's campaign manager.

Given the state of their fundraising, both Collins and Reed were about to get a head start on big-money campaigning as well as fundraising.

The new federal figures showed that Collins had already spent about $700,000 on his re-election effort as of June 30, while Reed had spent $1.64 million.

Figures like that prompted McMurray to create one more metaphor for his race against Collins.

"I've got a slingshot, and he has an AK-47 and a bazooka," McMurray said.

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