GOP Rep. Collins of NY declares victory after absentee count

November 20, 2018 - 6:29 pm

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Indicted Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Collins declared victory Tuesday in his western New York district, saying a count of absentee ballots preserved his lead over Democratic challenger Nate McMurray.

"Congressman Collins led and won on election night and maintained that lead during the entire recanvassing process," Collins' campaign spokeswoman Natalie Baldassarre said in a statement.

With fewer than 3,000 votes separating the candidates on Election Day, the race was deemed too close to call in the heavily Republican 27th Congressional District, which gave President Donald Trump his biggest margin of victory of any in the state in 2016.

After the last of more than 10,000 absentee ballots were tallied Tuesday, Erie County Republican Election Commissioner Ralph Mohr said it was "mathematically improbable" for McMurray to win. Collins' lead had shrunk to 1,384 with more than 900 affidavit ballots and an unknown number of military and federal ballots still to be counted.

McMurray's campaign said it would not have a statement until Wednesday. The Associated Press has not called the race.

Collins, one of the first members of Congress to support Trump's presidential run, is scheduled for trial in early 2020 on charges he leaked information about a biopharmaceutical company that allowed his son and others to avoid nearly $800,000 in stock losses. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of insider trading and lying to the FBI.

Collins initially dropped out of the race after the August indictment, then restarted his campaign a month later as Republican leaders were deliberating who would replace him on the ballot.

"The stakes are too high to allow the radical left to take control of this seat in Congress," he said at the time.

McMurray, town supervisor of Grand Island, saw his campaign pick up steam amid Collins' legal troubles. He reported raising more than a half-million dollars in three months and, with polls showing a close race, landed on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red to Blue" list for national support.

Before Collins' arrest, the incumbent's re-election was seen as all but certain, and McMurray's campaign struggled to attract the attention of donors and the national party.

After re-entering the race, Collins ran a low-key campaign that largely avoided media interviews and limited his appearances to friendly crowds.

A conviction would likely lead to his resignation from Congress. The most serious charge carries a potential prison term of up to 20 years.

A wealthy businessman who made his money by buying distressed businesses and turning them around, Collins relied heavily on television attack ads that implied a vote for any Democrat would be a vote to impeach Trump.

One of those ads was assailed by critics as racist. It showed McMurray, speaking Korean, over a backdrop of ominous music, a portrait of the North Korean dictator and captions falsely implying he was talking about sending American jobs to Asia. McMurray, a lawyer, has studied and taught law in South Korea and is married to a woman from South Korea.

Collins was one of two Republican congressmen running for re-election while under indictment. U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, of California, who was re-elected, was also an early Trump supporter, has pleaded not guilty to spending campaign funds for personal expenses.

The indictments drew a critical Sept. 3 tweet from Trump aimed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

"Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time," he wrote.

Trump, however, did not publicly endorse either of the congressmen during their re-election campaigns.