Sixteen-year Democratic incumbent Rep. Mike McIntyre had to navigate unfamiliar territory in a newly drawn congressional district that Republicans had tailored to help elect his opponent.
Two-term state Sen. David Rouzer was forced to make new friends outside the comfort zone of his home base in Johnston County, reaching into coastal counties where he had no political connections.
The GOP effort to unseat McIntyre drew national attention and outside money that in recent weeks soared to about $9 million – predominately for Rouzer – making it one of the most expensive House races in the country. But the outcome on Election Day was too close to call. It is headed for a recount that will not result in an official winner for two or three weeks.
A mere 507 votes separate the two. But about 4,500 provisional ballots aren’t yet counted in the seven counties that are fully or almost completely within the congressional district, which slices through pieces of five more counties and picks up additional provisional votes in those.
Provisional ballots will be counted this week. Mailed absentee ballots postmarked by Monday and received before 5 p.m. Friday will be added. Beginning the morning of Nov. 16, county elections boards will begin canvassing their results and certifying them to the state.
Candidates for non-statewide office who lose by no more than 1 percent of the vote can request recounts. They must request it by noon Nov. 20. If recount requests are received while canvassing is still going on, recounts could start as early as Nov. 19. Otherwise, recounts would begin Nov. 26, state Elections Director Gary Bartlett said.
For now, both sides are waiting to see how the numbers add up.
Recounts generally do not alter the outcome of elections, and the McIntyre campaign is hoping that holds true.
“It was a close election, but Mike McIntyre has received the most votes,” McIntyre spokesman Lachlan McIntosh said in a statement released Wednesday. “Because it was close, the process will need to work itself out. We have confidence in this process, and Congressman McIntyre looks forward to representing eastern North Carolina for the next two years.”
Rouzer’s camp, meanwhile, isn’t getting out ahead of the count, either.
“We will let this process play out and go from there,” Rouzer spokeswoman Jessica Wood said.
Not surprisingly, Rouzer’s strongest showing was in Johnston County, where he lives. He drew more than 45,000 votes there, which amounts to 42 percent of the registered voters in the predominately Republican county, contrasted with McIntyre’s not quite 30,000 votes.
Johnston County will be going over 1,346 provisional ballots, which county Elections Director Leah Anne Price said is about typical for a presidential election. That appears to be consistent with the number of provisional ballots being reported in counties across the state, which so far adds up to about 46,700 ballots.
The vote was close in Cumberland and New Hanover counties. But in each, redistricting again played in Rouzer’s favor. In Cumberland, Fayetteville was removed during redistricting, and New Hanover County lost reliably Democratic Wilmington. Rouzer also repeated his success during the primary by doing well in Brunswick and Pender.
McIntyre had expressed optimism that he was making inroads in the new parts of the district – Lenoir, Hoke and Johnston – but he came out on top only in Hoke County. McIntyre’s strongest showing was in Bladen County, where the nearly 11,000 votes he received represented 67 percent of the total votes cast.
McIntyre, a member of the conservative to moderate “blue dog Democrats,” campaigned on his ability to help his district’s military and farming communities through his ranking membership on the armed services and agriculture committees in Congress. Rouzer and GOP-funded TV ads accused McIntyre of being ineffective and of aligning with Washington liberals.
Staff writer Austin Baird contributed.