Raleigh, N.C. — Seven-term Democratic Congressman Bob Etheridge on Wednesday said he will call for a recount in his re-election bid, where he trails Republican challenger Renee Ellmers by about 1,600 votes.
Ellmers claimed victory late Tuesday, and The Associated Press also declared her the winner in the tight Second District race.
Etheridge said in a Wednesday news conference outside the State Board of Elections headquarters in Raleigh that it's premature to declare the race over because thousands of votes still need to be counted.
"Procedures are in place to ensure accuracy, integrity and that the right of one person, one vote is honored," he said. "It is incumbent upon all of us that these procedures be allowed to work, and a declaration of victory does not change that."
According to unofficial totals gathered by the State Board of Elections, Ellmers led Etheridge by 1,646 votes Wednesday afternoon. That lead was down by about 450 votes from the lead she held late Tuesday.
Etheridge said he's confident the gap between him and Ellmers will close further once provisional ballots and some absentee ballots are counted in the race. He also said his campaign has heard about "voting irregularities" in some counties, but he didn't elaborate.
Elections officials said it would take at least a week to determine the validity of the provisional ballots.
State law allows for recounts when the difference between the candidates is less than 1 percent of the total votes cast. With more than 188,000 votes cast in the Second District, any difference of less than 1,880 votes would be eligible for a recount.
"I am confident that, when this process is completed, I will still be your congressman," Etheridge said.
Ellmers, a Harnett County nurse, was given little chance of victory a few months ago. David Funderburk, who was elected in 1994 and defeated by Etheridge two years later, is the only other Republican elected in the Second District since 1900.
An online video depicting Etheridge confronting a man on a Washington, D.C., sidewalk raised the profile of the race and attracted outside groups, who revived the incident in a political ad last month.
The video showed Etheridge grabbing the arm and then the neck of a man who refused Etheridge's repeated demands to identify himself as he and another man videotaped Etheridge and asked if he supported "the Obama agenda."
Etheridge immediately apologized for the incident, and on Wednesday, he declined to say whether the video played a role in the election.
"A lot of money was spent in this race on her behalf," he said.
Ellmers said Wednesday that the video reflected the "arrogance" of Washington politics but said she thought his support for the national health care reform effort was the deciding factor in the race.
"Unfortunately, in the last couple of years, people started to think he wasn't representing them," Ellmers said. "I feel for him, especially losing to someone like me who has never run before. But I think he's going to come to terms with it. We are going to be victorious, and he gets to come home to Harnett County."
Vote totals show that Ellmers won the two candidates' home turf in Harnett County, and she also carried Johnston County by a 2-1 margin.
"The state of the economy, the way things are going and the job situation, is what people are ticked off about," said Lillington resident W.D. Thomas, who voted for Ellmers after backing Etheridge in previous elections.
David Avrette, the owner of Howard's Barbecue in Lillington, blamed Etheridge's defeat on bad timing.
"Times are challenging, and people are looking for someone to blame it on," Avrette said. "I regret that he's not going to be able to continue to represent us. He's done an excellent job."