Democratic congressional candidate Nathan McMurray is no fan of President Trump – but he tweets a bit like the tweeter-in-chief.
"NO LIES. NO CASH. NO BODYGUARDS.JUST YOU AND ME CHRIS. ON STAGE. DO YOUR JOB.AND FACE ME," read one recent tweet in which McMurray taunted his opponent, Rep. Chris Collins, over the Republican incumbent's refusal to commit to a debate.
That's a fairly typical tweet from McMurray – who, like the president, loves capital letters, explanation points and the phrase, "Drain the swamp!"
Meanwhile, Collins – who has never been known to be careful with his words in public – seems especially careful on social media.
His two Twitter feeds show a succession of stand-and-smile photos and updates highlighting what Collins sees as the good things happening in Washington, such as President Trump's new trade deal with Canada and a second proposed round of tax cuts.
As a result, the Collins Twitter feeds look sort of like electronic versions of those boring snail-mail newsletters you used to get from politicians.
Herein lies one of the starkest contrasts in the race between an upstart Democrat and a Republican who is running for re-election while facing felony insider trading charges that he denies.
The Democrat admits he is using social media like the nation's top Republican. And the Republican in the congressional race uses social media like an old-fashioned pol who isn't quite used to it – but who is anxious to show voters he's still hard at work despite ... you know.
That contrast is not all that unusual, said Jacob Neiheisel, an associate professor of political science at the University at Buffalo. He said political challengers are often more provocative on social media than the incumbents they are trying to defeat.
"If you're an incumbent, you can take a more conservative approach, whereas if you're the challenger, you're grasping for anything that can cut the costs of reaching the electorate," said Neiheisel, an expert in political communication.
And since Twitter is essentially free, McMurray has used it extensively since entering the congressional race early this year.
Trump's campaign – which, like McMurray's, was cash-poor at first – did the same thing in 2016. Trump tweeted and still tweets with a reckless abandon that disregards decorum, not to mention conventional rules governing punctuation and capitalization.
Watching it all, McMurray said he learned a little something.
"Trump proved that Twitter can be a great equalizer," McMurray said. "He had tremendous success with it even though he had an underfunded campaign."
So like Trump, McMurray uses Twitter to get people's attention.
"UNDERSTANDING MR. COLLINS CHAPTER 1: THE HARROWING TALE OF INNATE IMMUNOTHERAPEUTICS (let’s just call it “Innate”)," McMurray tweeted on March 29 in a tweet that linked to a Facebook post where the Democratic candidate gave his take on the stock scandal that would culminate in the congressman's arrest.
UNDERSTANDING MR. COLLINS CHAPTER 1: THE HARROWING TALE OF INNATE IMMUNOTHERAPEUTICS (let’s just call it “Innate”)
Read it here:https://t.co/Of98xIVijs
— Nate McMurray for Congress (@Nate_McMurray) March 29, 2018
Unlike Trump, McMurray doesn't aim his tweets at random targets. Instead, he aims just at Collins. And he keeps firing away, sometimes multiple times a day.
And he isn't shy about repeating the same message over and over again: Collins should #DebateNate. Collins is "a crook." And McMurray is out there, meeting the people.
— Nate McMurray for Congress (@Nate_McMurray) October 2, 2018
McMurray has built an audience with all that tweeting. He has about 13,300 Twitter followers, more than four times as many as @CollinsNY27, the congressman's campaign account.
That's important, Neiheisel said, because it could be a sign of an enthusiasm gap between the two campaigns. What's more, McMurray can use his Twitter followers as de facto campaign volunteers. In fact, many seem to delight in trolling Collins online with one quip after another about his arrest.
To McMurray – who, at 43, is nearly a quarter century younger than Collins – using social media seems to come naturally. And he said it's only natural for a candidate to use Twitter and Facebook when plenty of people spend so much time scrolling through the social media sites.
Not doing so "would be like not putting up lawn signs 50 years ago," he said.
For his part, though, Collins seems less interested in drawing attention to himself on social media.
Collins didn't post one picture of himself on his campaign's Twitter page between April 8 and Sept. 21, shortly after he revived the campaign he suspended following his indictment in August. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, FBI agents paid Collins a visit in April as they conducted the investigation that resulted in his indictment.
Asked about that absence from Twitter, Collins campaign spokeswoman Natalie Baldassarre said: "Unlike some, we don't tweet everything we do. Once the final decision was made to restart the campaign, Congressman Collins has been actively meeting with constituents both in the district and in Washington, D.C."
As of Friday, Collins' campaign and congressional Twitter feeds had tweeted eight photos of him with constituents, more than he had in the previous three months.
They show him stopping by the Republican Women's Autumn Brunch in Amherst, meeting with sportsmen in Newstead, posing with representatives of the National Stone, Sand, & Gravel Association, and so on.
It was nice to stop in Livingston County tonight. Had great conversations ranging from healthcare to President Trump's new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. This agreement is a huge win for our farmers in NY-27. pic.twitter.com/O8wkXKdu7g
— Chris Collins (@CollinsNY27) October 3, 2018
Those tweets seem aimed to make a point: Chris Collins is your congressman, hard at work.
"Since January 1, 2018, Congressman Collins has held more than 200 constituent meetings in the district and Washington, D.C.," Baldassarre said. "The congressman is more concerned with addressing the issues facing NY-27 – not the amount of support he receives on Twitter."
I appreciate the Northern Border Customs Brokers Association & the NY/NJ Foreign Freight Forwarders & Brokers Association sending a group to meet with me in DC. We discussed a variety of important issues that impact #WNY pic.twitter.com/ibptFmIDtP
— Rep. Chris Collins (@RepChrisCollins) September 27, 2018
The Collins tweets are, if anything, careful. They are nothing like the provocative posts that McMurray posts.
A typical Collins tweet "looks like a social media post from 10 years ago," said Peter Yacobucci, an associate professor of political science at Buffalo State College. In contrast, "McMurray's social media has been fantastic. They've been very effective in drawing people to his campaign," Yacobucci said.
Not surprisingly, McMurray is not impressed with Collins' recent return to Twitter, or with the 64 tweets Collins posted throughout the year showing him meeting with constituents in the district or in D.C.
"It's like Astroturf. It's totally fake," McMurray said, noting that the vast majority of Collins' social media photos show the congressman in posed pictures and/or in controlled environments like Republican Party events.
In contrast, McMurray often posts pictures of crowded campaign appearances, including town hall discussions of the type Collins has always avoided.
McMurray also does some unusual things on social media, such as delivering a short Facebook speech in Korean that Collins later used in a controversial – and highly misleading – attack ad.
But a large number of McMurray's latest tweets focus solely on Collins, not that the Collins camp seems to mind.
Asked what Collins thinks of the McMurray Twitter feed, Baldassarre offered a quote from the Book of Proverbs: "Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions."