The field of candidates for the 27th Congressional District seat expanded Saturday as Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, announced he was throwing his hat into the ring.
Ortt, who described himself as a "battle tested patriot" and a "conservative warrior," said he wants to become the next congressman so he can go to Washington and fight for the people of NY-27.
The seat is currently held by U.S. Rep Chris Collins, R-Clarence, who has not formally announced whether he will be running again.
Collins was indicted on insider trading charges in 2018 and narrowly defeated Democratic Challenger Nathan McMurray for re-election last year. McMurray announced last weekend he will run again for the seat, which represents the most Republican congressional district in the state.
In June, Collins bolstered his war-chest by loaning his campaign $500,000 of his own money. He said he wants to signal to supporters that his campaign is "properly funded."
Ortt joins several area Republicans who have announced challenges to Collins in recent weeks. State Sen. Chris Jacobs announced his campaign in May. Beth Parlato, a family law attorney and former judge in Darien Center, announced her campaign for the seat in late July.
Saturday morning, Ortt touched upon his history as a veteran and a state senator, illustrating the picture of someone who volunteers to serve when called upon, and noting that his congressional campaign is the next step in his career of service to America.
"I went to give voice to those who feel they have none. I want to fight on behalf of everything we believe in," Ortt said. "I've always believed in the call of patriotic service, whether military or public service. The front line is where I want to be."
Ortt said in the state senate he has seen "the Democratic Socialist Agenda," which he said includes higher taxes, an open border, driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, unionization of farmers, abortion on demand, more rights for criminals and more gun control for law-abiding gun owners.
He touted that he has been recognized for several years as the most conservative state senator.
Ortt, who emphasized his support for President Donald J. Trump, said he would fight for the issues Trump and Republicans have focused on.
One issue he mentioned was fighting for veterans to have better health care.
"As a veteran, I will never stop working to ensure that there care comes first, not second and certainly not last," Ortt said.
He also said that he will work to secure the border, noting that he was deployed to the border during Operation Jump Start and understands the border better than any other candidate in the NY-27 race.
"I know what our southern border is up against," Ortt said. He added that the country needs a border wall and to fix the loopholes in immigration law.
Ortt will also fight to keep taxes low.
He also compared himself to the president by saying they both have been the targets of "political witch hunts."
Ortt was referring to the state election law charges that former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman lobbed against Ortt, and got dropped after a Albany judge determined there was a lack of evidence in 2017.
Like President Trump, I've personally been the target of a partisan witch hunt led by my political opponents," Ortt said. "Just like our president I didn't back down in the face of these baseless accusations."
Ortt concluded his announcement speech, saying he is asking once again to serve and that "I'm not running for congress to have a seat at the table, I'm running to flip the table over."
In an interview after the speech, Ortt said he feels his story will help him stand out in the expanding Republican primary field.
"We're going to tell our story. I think we have a unique brand here ... I'm a strong conservative voice," he said.
Ortt said he believes Collins has "done a great job supporting the president," but noted that Collins "hasn't made his plans knowns as to what he is going to do."
"This is a wide open race," Ortt added. "I think there is a long way to go before June."
Ortt was sworn in as the state senator for the 62nd District in January 2015.
From 2010 to 2014, he served as the mayor of North Tonawanda.
Ortt enlisted in the NY Army National Guard in Oct. 2001 and received a Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal, the Afghan Campaign Medal and the Combat Infantryman's Badge in recognition for his service.
Ortt is the ranking member of the New York State Senate Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs. He also serves on the NYS Senate Committees for Energy and Telecommunications; Insurance; Higher Education; Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities; and State-Native American Relations.