The Buffalo-area battle between an indicted Republican congressman and his upstart opponent went national Wednesday, as alt-right standard bearer Steve Bannon made plans to travel to Elma to boost Rep. Chris Collins and as a top Democratic funding committee came to the aid of the embattled GOP lawmaker's Democratic challenger, Nathan McMurray.
The dueling announcements – coming within hours of each other Wednesday morning – signaled that the race in New York's 27th Congressional District suddenly ranks among the America's hottest.
And Oct. 24 could be one of the race's hottest days thanks to Bannon's 4:30 p.m. appearance at a get-out-the-vote rally at the Jamison Road Volunteer Fire Company, 1071 Jamison Road. Friendly crowds and angry protesters have appeared at Bannon's speaking engagements since he left his job as a top aide to President Trump last year, and there's no reason to think that the rally in Elma will be an exception.
“It’s a ‘Red Tide Rising’ rally to get out the vote for all Republican candidates in the region,” said Michael R. Caputo, an East Aurora political consultant and CNN commentator, who works with Bannon and who is organizing his trip to Western New York. “People will be coming from all around, but everyone is concerned about NY-27 going blue.”
Even though the Collins district ranks as the most Republican in New York State, a Siena College poll released Tuesday shows him statistically tied with McMurray.
“Steve is doing a national tour of troublesome congressional districts,” Caputo said. “He is a friend who I told about the problems in NY-27, and he wants to keep it red.”
The GOP aims to rally Trump supporters amid fears that normally loyal Republicans could be reluctant to vote for a candidate facing federal charges. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan indicted Collins on felony insider trading charges on Aug. 8, but he maintains he is innocent and is running for re-election even though he's set to go on trial on Feb. 3, 2020.
Bannon has been touring the country in recent weeks to rally Trump supporters and urge their vote on Nov. 6 to stave off a serious Democratic challenge to GOP control of the House of Representatives, Caputo said.
“Bannon believes Republicans are at war in the midterms and knows that if we lose the House of Representatives to the Democrats, all the accomplishments of the Trump administration will come to a screeching halt,” Caputo said.
Bannon served as a key figure in the president’s 2016 campaign and joined the Trump administration in 2017 as chief strategist. He left after only a few months to rejoin the nationalistic, alt-right Breitbart News website he co-founded in 2007, but he stepped down from its top post earlier this year.
While Collins may get a publicity boost from Bannon, McMurray may get all sorts of campaign help thanks to the Democratic National Campaign Committee's decision to add Collins' challenger to its list of "Red to Blue" candidates – those viewed as needing a little extra help from national Democrats to win in November.
The DCCC provides candidates with fundraising and organizational support, along with guidance, staff and training. The committee also sometimes buys ad time on behalf of its candidates.
“It’s gratifying to have earned this support of the DCCC," McMurray said. "It’s clear that they see what we see: Our grassroots support is real and that we’re building momentum by talking to neighbors, getting small dollar donations, and standing up for what’s right."
McMurray had complained for months about the DCCC's failure to devote resources to his campaign. But in districts such as New York's 27th – a suburban and rural swath of land where Republicans have a natural 11-point advantage – the party often waits to put money down on Democratic candidates until after they've proven themselves to be viable.
The Spectrum/Siena poll, combined with an internal McMurray survey last week that showed the race to be tied, appeared to give the DCCC the reason it needed to get behind Collins' challenger.
"Nate’s emphasis on putting people first has helped him build a strong grassroots campaign that is highly competitive and prepared to bring ethical representation to New York’s 27th Congressional District,” said DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico.
The Collins camp, meanwhile, read the DCCC's involvement as a sign that McMurray will be indebted to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, even though McMurray has said many times he will not support her for House speaker.
"We've said it from Day 1 – Nate McMurray is bought and paid for by Nancy Pelosi's Washington Democrats, and this announcement from her political organization is further proof of that," said Natalie Baldassarre, Collins' campaign spokeswoman. "The more support Nate McMurray receives from Nancy Pelosi and her liberal cronies, the more Nate owes Nancy Pelosi his vote for speaker. It's that simple."
For his part, McMurray offered a more sly, tongue-in-cheek response to the news that Bannon would be campaigning for Collins.
The Democratic candidate merely tweeted a quote from President Trump, who said after Bannon left the White House: “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”