‘This is not a time to play it safe’: Nate McMurray plans second bid for Congress

It’s official, and no surprise: Grand Island Supervisor and progressive Democrat Nate McMurray will run for Congress again in New York’s heavily conservative 27th Congressional District.

McMurray plans to announce his candidacy at a press conference on Sunday, but offered a preview in an interview with The Buffalo News earlier this week. He said he’s eager to take another crack at the incumbent who beat him narrowly in 2018: Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican from Clarence who remains under criminal indictment, charged with felony insider trading.

“I think it’s important to oppose Mr. Collins, to oppose the policies coming out of Washington and also fight for the things I believe in,” McMurray said. “This is the race I’m most passionate about. It’s probably the path of most resistance in a lot of ways. But I do believe that it’s the right fight.”

McMurray said he decided to run in the 27th District again even though Justice Democrats — a national group allied with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx — and some local progressives urged him to challenge Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, in a primary.

Those critics contend that Higgins has not been a strong enough voice against President Trump, even though Higgins announced his support for an impeachment inquiry in mid-June. And in the interview, McMurray expressed some sympathy with the sentiment that Higgins not done enough to take on Trump.

“This is not a time to play it safe,” McMurray said. “I’ve expressed that to Congressman Higgins, but also to others in safe seats in New York State when I’ve had the opportunity. I’ve said, ‘You need to stand up and be stronger: a voice for impeachment, and and a voice against Mr. Collins.’ “

McMurray made his anti-Trump, anti-Collins stance clear in a turbulent 2018 race that he lost to Collins by only 1,087 votes.

If anything, McMurray has made his progressive views even clearer since then, calling for Trump’s impeachment and stronger gun-control measures even though he’s running in a heavily rural district where a recent poll found Trump with an 81% approval rating among Republicans.

Asked how he planned to appeal to Trump voters, McMurray said he’s counting on them turning on the president.

“In politics, things change quickly,” McMurray said. “And if Trump’s brinkmanship in economic matters or international matters continues, and we have a change in the economy, or when you see these terrible trade policies start to affect directly more local farmers, I think you can see a quick change.”

McMurray raged against Collins on ethics issues both before and after the lawmaker’s indictment last year, and he plans to do so again.

“I have many witnesses that are verifying my previous arguments — and that’s the Republican Party itself,” he said.

For instance, State Sen. Chris Jacobs, a Republican who has already announced his bid for Collins’ seat, has said the incumbent can’t really do the job while under indictment. Local attorney Beth Parlato has also joined the race for the GOP nomination, and other possible candidates include State Sen. Rob Ortt of North Tonawanda and Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia.

Collins was stripped of his House committee assignments after his arrest, leaving him with little legislative clout. But Collins continues to tout his close relationship with the Trump White House while stepping up campaign-like activities in his district and awaiting his criminal trial, which is set to begin next Feb. 3.

To hear McMurray tell it, Collins is lucky, too — because in some part of the sprawling 27th District, voters remain unaware of the criminal charges their congressman faces.

“I have to reach people and say, ‘Do you understand this man used his office to promote his company to enrich his friends? Do you understand that this man is on trial, that he’s been removed from his own party from his positions?’ ” McMurray said. “It’s difficult to get that across. But that’s the challenge I have in this district.”

Collins, who beat McMurray with a combination of attack ads and a robocall from Trump, did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

McMurray is expected to win the support of the Democratic Party across the district’s seven counties.

“We’re all behind Nate,” said Livingston County Democratic Chairwoman Judith Hunter, who discussed the campaign with Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner recently.

Hunter said the 2020 race looks much like the 2018 race did just after Collins’ arrest a year ago, when it was unclear whether Collins or one of several other interested Republicans would be on the ballot in the fall.

“Republicans still don’t have a clue” who their 2020 congressional candidate will be, Hunter said.