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Enthusiasm characterizes Nate McMurray's unlikely 27th District campaign

If Democrat Nathan McMurray pulls an upset in his race against Republican Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence in New York's deep-red 27th District, it may be due in part to the likes of Becky Landy, Kate Alonzo and Mark Hamill.

Yes, that Mark Hamill. Luke Skywalker. From "Star Wars."

Landy stands on street corners in the Southtowns Thursday after Thursday, as do other McMurray supporters all across the far-flung district, waving campaign signs and cheering their candidate's name as cars go by.

Alonzo and her friends spearheaded a postcard writing campaign on McMurray's behalf that ended up reaching more than 20,000 voters.

And Hamill endorsed McMurray on Twitter this week, most likely in response to the candidate's occasionally loopy Twitter feed, which recently featured a homemade video that showed McMurray as a Star Wars hero battling the dark side.

Obviously, the McMurray campaign is an odd one, built on grassroots enthusiasm and online moxie as well as money.

McMurray finds it thrilling.

"The grassroots stuff – I'm overwhelmed by it," said McMurray, the Grand Island town supervisor.

On every corner

Landy and her compatriots gathered at an Orchard Park intersection again Thursday night, just as they had for the 11 previous Thursdays, to show the world how much they love McMurray.

Other McMurray supporters regularly do the same at other intersections all across the 27th District, which stretches from Buffalo's suburbs to Rochester's. Some "stand on every corner" McMurray supporters bring along a cardboard cutout of Collins in an orange jumpsuit, a not-so-subtle reminder that the incumbent is fighting felony insider trading charges. And the Southtowns crew includes "the biscuit beast," a tall guy who shows up in a furry blue costume that looks stolen from the set of "Sesame Street."

"Mmmm..... me hungry for representation!!!!" the biscuit beast said on Twitter, where he's shown taking a bite out of Collins as if he were a biscuit.

Neither Landy nor McMurray say they know who the biscuit beast is, but Landy sees him as a sign of the energy behind the Democrat's campaign.

"I have never seen this level of enthusiasm for any candidate," said Landy, of Orchard Park, who – like many McMurray street corner campaigners – has canvassed and made phone calls for the candidate, too.

Further proof of that enthusiasm could be found at a three-corner intersection in Geneseo last month, where a group of about 35 McMurray supporters gathered in a county where there are about 60 percent more Republicans than Democrats.

Supporters of Democratic congressional candidate Nathan McMurray campaign in Geneseo on Oct. 18. (Jerry Zremski/Buffalo News)

There, supporters raved about McMurray's frequent visits to Livingston County, his soaring stump speech and his willingness to listen.

"Nate is really great," said Maureen McCarron, 54, of Canisus. "I think he has the potential to go much farther than Congress."

Postcards for Nate

The street corner efforts for McMurray grew out of earlier protests at Collins' office. And similarly, a postcard-writing effort for progressive policies morphed over time into an unconventional campaign to boost McMurray.

Volunteers in the eight counties that include territory in the 27th District have spent months targeting voters with handwritten postcards that look entirely different than the kind of mass mailings that campaigns usually do.

A sample of the campaign postcards sent on behalf of Democratic congressional candidate Nathan McMurray.

It started in Livingston County, where Kate Alonzo and her friends Doreen DeCamp and Ilonka Tumelaire had been writing to their neighbors about their concerns regarding the Trump administration.

All that changed after they heard McMurray speak at SUNY Geneseo State earlier this year.

"I couldn't believe how excited people got" about McMurray's candidacy, Alonzo said.

Soon Alonzo and her friends and dozens of others were gathering weekly, pens and markers in hand, to write individual messages to Livingston County independents. Later they targeted young voters and others in the county.

And as they did so, word spread among McMurray volunteers in other counties who started writing postcards to voters, too.

"I've never seen this level of engagement in a campaign," said Cynthia Appleton, Democratic chairwoman in Wyoming County. "I think Nate inspires that."

Indictment steers Chris Collins' 27th District campaign along an unusual path

Online inspiration

Several McMurray campaign volunteers said they feel like they got to know the candidate as much through his Facebook Page and his Twitter feed as his campaign stops. There, McMurray comes across sort of as a cross between a progressive crusader and a teenage jokester. And plenty of people seem to like what they see.

McMurray supporter Pam Laycock first came across McMurray on Facebook.

"I was immediately attracted to his message of hope, of responsibility, of responsiveness to his community and the desire to truly represent us," she said.

Other voters said they were attracted to McMurray's Twitter account just because he tries to make it funny. Recently, for example, he posted a meme of two guys playing pool. One of them – supposedly Collins dressed in a horizontally striped shirt (get it?) – gets hit with a cue ball where it hurts most.

Then there was the mock Star Wars video, which, like many videos on McMurray's accounts, was concocted by the candidate and his brother Joshua.

Perhaps it's no coincidence, then, that Hamill took to Twitter this week to endorse McMurray.

McMurray said he was happy to get Hamill's endorsement – and that he's always happy to take to Twitter with something funny or imaginative.

"Some of it is goofy and silly, and this is a medium that lends itself to that," he said,  adding that he wants to show his supporters that he's enjoying his race for Congress.

McMurray's Twitter audience – which is four times bigger than Collins' – seems to love it.

Lately, in fact, supporters have been showing their admiration for their candidate in an unusual way.

"I'm getting artworks and cupcakes with my face on it," McMurray noted. "It's a very strange moment in my life."

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