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Nate McMurray conceded to Chris Collins, and then it got interesting

Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Republican indicted on felony insider trading charges, narrowly won his bid for a fourth term Tuesday after one of the most unusual congressional campaigns in recent Western New York history.

At nearly 1 a.m., it got more unusual: Nathan McMurray, after earlier conceding defeat, called for a recount.

“After examining the numbers, the margin is 1 percent and the will of the voters must be heard,” the Grand Island town supervisor said in a statement.

Until McMurray’s statement, the story was that Collins, riding a 40,000-voter Republican advantage in New York’s 27th Congressional District, held on to his seat.

“We won the election. I will represent everyone in the district with the best constituent services, and I will continue to support our president," Collins said in an impromptu news conference following McMurray's concession. "I will continue to do my job. All is good.”

Early Wednesday morning, Collins' spokeswoman, Natalie Baldassarre, quickly pushed back on the notion of a recount.

"After tearfully conceding and recognizing his own defeat, Nate McMurray is once again dancing to the tune of the angry mob that just can't accept the will of the voters," Baldassarre said. "Congressman Collins is looking forward to serving NY-27 as he always as."

Collins – who was removed from his House committees by Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, after his indictment – now will have to contend with a Democratic majority in the House. But he insisted that he will be able to continue doing his job, despite his indictment.

“This is not going to distract me, nor has it,” said Collins, who also insisted he will be exonerated in court.

The results came as a difficult blow not only to McMurray, but also to the hundreds of volunteers who flocked to the candidate.

"We’re going to come up a little short tonight,” he said before a crowd of dejected supporters at his campaign headquarters in Hamburg. "We are not going to be sad. We did a great thing."

McMurray said he was frustrated his message could not break through to more Republicans.

“You have a royal congressman now," McMurray said. "He thinks he’s above us.”

The results showed that many Republicans in the deeply conservative district chose to ignore what happened to Collins on Aug. 8.

Collins pleaded not guilty that day to 11 federal criminal charges, including fraud, conspiracy and lying to an FBI agent. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said Collins launched an insider stock trading scheme on a phone call to his son Cameron while attending a picnic at the White House in June 2017. Cameron Collins and his future father-in-law, Stephen Zarsky, face the same charges.

The indictment revitalized the McMurray campaign, which had previously struggled to raise funds.

McMurray's paid advertising mostly stayed positive, with ads that introduced the largely unknown candidate to Western New York voters. Only late in the campaign did McMurray air an ad that showed several longtime Republicans who refused to vote for Collins because of his indictment.

A bipertisan team from the Erie County Board of Elections began their count of the 2018 absentee ballots, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. They began with the 5588 ballots from the 27th District. A cart is filled with ballots. These are ballots from Clarence. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Collins suspended his campaign for more than a month after his indictment, saying it was in the best interest of his constituents, the Republican Party and President Trump to do so.

But then in mid-September, he re-entered the race, saying his lawyers saw no good way of removing his name from the ballot.

The revived Collins campaign opened with a false ad alleging that McMurray, while serving as a lawyer for U.S. companies in Asia, worked to ship jobs overseas.

Meantime, Collins campaigned only before friendly crowds, stepping out only occasionally to local gun rights and Republican Party gatherings. He also rarely spoke to the media; instead, his press aide, Natalie Baldassarre, did most of his talking for him.

The McMurray campaign was a different thing entirely. At 43, McMurray is a quarter century younger than Collins, and that seemed clear from the start of the McMurray campaign.

McMurray used Twitter as his easel, attacking Collins with a snarky vigor and winning more than 14,000 followers with colorful pictures from the campaign trail and homemade videos – including one that featured the candidate as a Star Wars hero battling the forces of darkness.

The Democrat campaigned relentlessly, too, visiting the district's eight counties and most of its towns multiple times. In doing so, he energized hundreds of volunteers who wrote postcards, made calls and pounded on doors on his behalf.

Interviews with voters in the Buffalo portion of the district offered divergent opinions of the two candidates.

Collins’ close relationship with Trump appeared to help him among Republican voters.

“Chris Collins, I wouldn’t have voted for him if he wasn’t a Republican,” said Jonatha Katterer, 43, a maintenance worker from Eden. “But I voted for him for one reason: Trump.”

Mary Ann King, of Orchard Park, voted for Collins, too.

“I voted to keep the seat in the party,” she said. “I think the candidate may go to jail, but I think it’s important to preserve his seat for the Republican Party.”

Gary Sheldon, a Democrat from Clarence, said he voted for McMurray because he just can’t see how Collins could serve in Congress while he is under indictment. He said he was largely unfamiliar with McMurray, but voted for him anyway.

“It’s by default, which is the way you usually vote for everybody, unfortunately,” Sheldon said. “It’s give the new guy a chance.”

McMurray supporter Joanne Hart, of Orchard Park, expressed even stronger feelings about the incumbent.

“Collins – I mean, forget it,” she said. “If he wins, I’m going to need a bottle of wine tonight.”

Includes reporting by News staff reporters Stephen T. Watson and Keith McShea.

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