Democrat Nathan McMurray continued to press his challenge against Republican Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence Wednesday, insisting that outstanding ballots will decide the close race in the 27th Congressional District that the Democrat appeared to concede only 17 hours earlier.
"There are over 18,000 votes that have not yet been counted, between absentee, emergency, and affidavit ballots," McMurray said. "If this were Election Day, we would still be holding tight. We will continue to count each and every ballot to ensure every voter in this district is heard."
McMurray's stance — which he spelled out at a late-afternoon news conference Wednesday — was the third he struck on the race since the polls closed.
At about 11 p.m. on election night, he stood before upwards of 300 supporters at his Hamburg headquarters and said: "We're going to come up a little short tonight."
Then, two hours later, he issued a statement saying: "After examining the numbers, the margin is 1 percent and the will of the voters must be heard. We are demanding a recount."
He elaborated on that demand in a morning interview with The Buffalo News, only to focus on the outstanding ballots in his afternoon news conference. He said he may have misspoken in using the word "recount" when there were so many votes still outstanding.
It's unclear whether the outstanding ballots can change Tuesday's results, which show Collins with a 2,692-vote lead.
It was even unclear exactly how many ballots remained uncounted.
The Collins campaign put that number at less than 9,500.
A News estimate, based on data from all eight counties that have territory in the district, put the number of outstanding ballots at slightly more than 10,000.
Collins' campaign consultant, Christopher M. Grant, dismissed the possibility that the outstanding ballots could reverse the results.
“It’s time for Nate McMurray to let the voters’ will stand, and drop this absurd notion … and give up his campaign," Grant said. “He hasn’t yet come to terms with the fact that this campaign is over."
That's what McMurray himself thought around 11 p.m. Tuesday. In a Wednesday morning interview with The News, he said his consultants told him he appeared headed for an 8-point loss.
"They had some kind of crazy formula, some stupid analytics thing where this model is going to predict how it's going to fall out," he said. "The problem was, there were variables that the analytics formula didn't look at, like our huge victories in places like Ontario County. So because I was winning in places where Democrats never win, the formula didn't work."
McMurray went before the crowd to tell them the bad news, thinking it would be best if people went home.
"I did not concede," he said Wednesday. "That was the word the media used. I never used that word. I said it looks like we're falling short."
But by the time McMurray finished speaking, the gap between him and Collins — which had been hovering at between 3 and 4 points — had narrowed.
And, by 12:55 a.m., with the gap at 1 percent, both McMurray's grassroots supporters and his consultants told him the same thing.
"My whole team was saying recount," he said. "So I said 'OK, I'll do it.' "
Results available on election night include only votes cast at the polls. The final vote counts — including absentee ballots — will be tallied over the next few weeks, before the results are certified, said Erie County Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph M. Mohr.
That is what typically happens after each election.
It's unclear, though, whether there actually will be a recount in the 27th Congressional District, which stretches from Buffalo's suburbs to Rochester's.
New York State election law does not call for an automatic recount in tight races. Instead, it's up to the county boards of elections — eight of them, in the case of the 27th district — to decide whether to proceed with a recount.
Recounts also can occur under court order in New York.
McMurray said at his Wednesday afternoon news conference that he still might go to court to try to get a recount after the outstanding ballots are counted.
To Grant, Collins' consultant, any such idea seemed ridiculous.
“You can’t just whine, moan, cry and stomp your feet and blame it on your consultants,” Grant said of McMurray. “He needs to be an adult, recognize the voters have made their decision and move on.”
McMurray at first resisted naming the consulting firm that misled him about the results.
But when asked if it was Red Horse Strategies, he conceded that it was.
He said Red Horse, a Brooklyn-based Democratic consulting firm that took the reins of McMurray's effort in recent weeks, did an excellent job crafting his closing message, honing his political ads and raising money.
"I don't blame Red Horse" for his premature speech telling his supporters that he would lose, McMurray said. Instead, he blamed himself for "a compulsion" to not prolong what he thought would be the suffering of his supporters.
"That was kind of my emotional response to it," McMurray said. "It was an illogical response."
Later Wednesday, at his news conference, he had a different response entirely.
"We're going to fight like hell," he said. "We're going to be as scrappy and creative and innovative as it gets. I can tell you now, Mr. Collins, we are not going away."
News Staff Reporters Harold McNeil, Aaron Besecker and Robert McCarthy contributed to this report.