NSW Nats dodge bullet in by-elections

The Nationals look to have dodged a bullet and retained the seats of Cootamundra and Murray despite losing ground to their opponents in the country by-elections.

NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro celebrated victory in the seat of Cootamundra on Saturday night, but held off declaring Murray as won until further votes were counted.

Despite holding margins of more than 20 per in both regional seats, the Nationals faced the prospect of losing considerable ground to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party.

With lingering voter anger over the aborted greyhound racing ban and forced council amalgamations, the Shooters hoped to claim another rural scalp after last year's shock win in the Orange by-election.

However, with more than two thirds of votes counted on Saturday night, the Nationals were ahead with more than 45 per cent of the vote in Cootamundra and just over 40 per cent in Murray.

While the Shooters are a close second in Murray, with more than 30 per cent of the vote, Country Labor were narrowly ahead of them in Cootamundra, with the parties splitting the opposition to the Nationals at just less than a quarter each.

John Barilaro was on hand in Cootamundra to celebrate the victory with candidate Steph Cook, who will replace Katrina Hodgkinson after 18 years in parliament.

"It was a hard campaign, there was a protest vote against the government, we always knew it was going to be tight and tough, but in politics you just want to get over the line," Mr Barilaro told AAP on Saturday night.

"Look, there are lessons for the government and lessons for us. There's been a significant swing, so we have to accept that, but we don't claim to be a perfect government and in our imperfection we strive to do better and that's our job."

Mr Barilaro, who conceded he had been "rattled" by the party's loss in Orange, said he was quietly confident his party would also retain Murray.

"We're confident absolutely, we're ahead - we've got a nice little margin there - we won't be claiming it tonight but we're confident we'll hold that seat."

Following the party's defeat in the by-election last year, Mr Barilaro said a win in Cootamundra was evidence of the party's worth in regional NSW.

Meanwhile, Labor romped home to victory in Blacktown, with candidate Stephen Bali receiving more than 70 per cent of the vote where the Liberals failed to field a candidate.

Earlier in the day, the Nationals were accused of playing dirty tricks at country NSW voting polls with party members allegedly distributing pamphlets and signs disguised as Electoral Commission material.

Both Labor and the Shooters have accused the Nationals of trying to deceive voters by handing out Electoral Commission themed material urging people to "just vote once" to stem preferences flowing to their opposition.

Nationals supporters were also accused of handing out letters co-signed by John Howard urging people not to vote for the Shooters that had not been registered with the Electoral Commisison.

Mr Barilaro said while he was aware a Nationals supporter had been found with one of the letters, he stated they had not been distributing them.

"We believe that there has been nothing improper done, often people make these claims," Mr Barilaro said.

"I'm confident everything we've done is right."

feedback