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A powerful group dedicated to electing Democrats to the House is getting involved for the first time in a safe GOP district in New York after the Republican congressman there was charged with insider trading.
Nate McMurray, the Democratic candidate in the 27th District, told CNBC that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, is offering him a helping hand. McMurray said operatives for the DCCC contacted him Wednesday morning, after GOP Rep. Chris Collins was arrested. They offered him digital marketing assistance for the first time, as well as help in finding a new campaign manager, he said.
McMurray said he and his previous campaign manager agreed to part ways in the early stages of the election cycle.
"They [DCCC] said they want to help. They said, 'We always thought you were a good candidate but we thought this was the wrong race for you. We thought this was the wrong race for anybody, but now this opens an opportunity for us,'" McMurray said.
Even with DCCC support, McMurray faces a tough road ahead because the district has historically backed Republican candidates. President Donald Trump carried the district by an almost 2-to-1 margin in 2016, as he captured 60 percent of the vote. Collins won his re-election battle by claiming 67 percent of the electorate compared with his opponent who only cobbled together just more than 32 percent. After Collins' arrest last week, Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball changed NY-27 from safe Republican to likely Republican.
There is no official agreement between McMurray's campaign and the DCCC, he said. But, even though the group showed no interest in helping him before, the Democrat said he's going to hear them out.
"They were not supportive at all up until this point. They thought it was in the bag. I kept telling them, 'Are you nuts? Do you see who I am running against?,'" the Grand Island town supervisor said, referring to the two other insider trading investigations into Collins by the House Ethics Committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics.
A spokesman for the DCCC referred CNBC to its original statement when Collins was accused of insider trading by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
"With Collins' arrest for corruption, unprecedented grassroots energy, and the strong candidacy of Nate McMurray, this seat is firmly in play for Democrats," Meredith Kelly, communications director at the DCCC, said at the time.
The district has also been on the DCCC's target list since the start of the 2018 election cycle.
The potential alliance between McMurray and the DCCC would be a major boost to the underdog who admits his campaign needs organizational help. More people started volunteering after the Collins indictment, he said.
"I have to get a general sense of where the troops need to go. This has been as grassroots as it gets. If I had a professional that put the aces in the right spots and this person helped us put those talents in the right places to help us win, then I'm all for that," he said.
McMurray also needs help in the fundraising game. His campaign has raised $133,000, while Collins brought in $1.2 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. McMurray currently has $81,000 on hand while Collins has $1.3 million.
The majority of McMurray's financial support has come through small contributions, while Collins has received the backing of political action committees associated with major corporations such as General Electric and AT&T.
Beyond the charges of insider trading, Collins has come under scrutiny for using his own campaign funds to pay for his legal defense against investigations by the House Ethics Committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics.
A spokesman for the Collins legal team confirmed the payments to CNBC but noted Collins, who is estimated to have a net worth of just more than $60 million, would be paying for his own legal bills going forward as he faces criminal charges.
After Collins suspended his campaign, several potential candidates have flagged their interest in jumping in.
Buffalo businessman and former candidate for governor Carl Paladino tweeted on Sunday that he's edging toward a run for Collins' seat. Former National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Andrea Bozek is also interested in making a run but has yet to make a final decision, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
The county chairs of the New York Republican State Committee are planning to meet Tuesday to discuss how to handle Collins going forward, a spokeswoman for the group says.
The only way to remove him from the ballot is to either vote him out of the district or nominate him for a superseding office. Then the local county chairs will select a new candidate by a weighted vote.