Democrat Nathan McMurray doesn't have much money to challenge Republican Rep. Chris Collins in New York's 27th Congressional District, but the upstart candidate is trying to make up the gap with moxie.
Collins found that out much to his surprise last Saturday, when McMurray did something that few candidates ever do. McMurray ambushed his opponent in person, demanding a debate.
The awkward meeting between the two candidates came at the "Little World's Fair" in Hemlock, in Livingston County. Upon seeing McMurray, the GOP congressman from Clarence kept his cool, but didn't give McMurray the commitment he was seeking.
So went the latest chapter in McMurray's #DebateNate campaign. Facing a Republican with 16 times more campaign cash, McMurray and his supporters have been trolling Collins on Twitter, using the #DebateNate hashtag, since March. And twice now McMurray has confronted Collins in person.
Saturday's encounter, which the McMurray campaign filmed for use on social media, starts with the two candidates exchanging pleasantries.
Then McMurray gets down to business, asking: "Are we going to have that debate? Are we going to be able to do that, or what?"
Collins replied politely, saying: "Well, we'll talk in October and probably not before then."
McMurray wouldn't take "wait" for an answer.
"We should have a couple," he said. "There's a lot to talk about. Are we going to get a commitment from you, or no?"
Hearing that, Collins turned and started to walk away, saying: "Have a nice day. Not now. As I said, we'll talk more in October."
McMurray then followed Collins, continuing to pester him.
"Don't you think the people of Western New York want to see what we have to talk about, see how your record is?" he asked. "Should we talk about it? We could debate tonight up at the grandstand if you want."
It was not to be.
"Enjoy your day; I'm enjoying mine," Collins said as he disappeared into a building, leaving McMurray with a few last words.
"Make a commitment, come on, people want to see you," the Democrat said.
Such are the tactics of what McMurray calls a grassroots campaign that's relying in part on social media to make up for its lack of cash.
Collins, meantime, appears to be doing what incumbent members of Congress usually do. He's sitting on $1.34 million in campaign cash and will likely spend it on the airwaves in the fall, while avoiding his opponent as much as possible.
In fact, many incumbent lawmakers such as Collins – who is heavily favored to win a fourth term in the heavily Republican 27th District – never agree to a debate.
Asked later about the encounter at the fair, McMurray said it was the second time he confronted Collins live and in person.
The first time came when McMurray impulsively approached Collins at the Wyoming County agricultural dinner in March, asking for a debate. In response, Collins laughed.
The audio can't be heard on that video, but McMurray said Collins made clear that night that he would never agree to a debate.
"Afterwards, I thought: 'Dear God,' " McMurray said. "That's when I started this whole #DebateNate thing."
Dozens of McMurray supporters have spread the word on Twitter that Collins has not committed to a debate. Some have also contacted media organizations, asking them to host an encounter between the two candidates. More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition demanding a debate, McMurray said, and even more have signed petitions in person at campaign events.
The Collins campaign would not comment on a potential formal meeting between the two candidates. Instead, campaign spokesman Bryan Piligra offered a statement praising the congressman's record and taking a shot at the fact that McMurray, the Grand Island town supervisor, lives outside the 27th Congressional District.
"Chris Collins cares about talking to the people who he represents, and that's why he's working with President Trump to make the tax cuts permanent and keep our economy moving," Piligra said. "That said, we are happy that six months after his campaign started, Nate McMurray finally figured out where NY-27 is located."
For his part, though, McMurray has been campaigning heavily in the district, which sprawls all the way to the Rochester suburbs. So of course he was campaigning at the Little World's Fair in Hemlock when he happened to see Collins in the distance.
"I did chase him down," McMurray said. "I'll admit to that."