Raleigh, N.C. — Republican Renee Ellmers has unseated veteran Congressman Bob Etheridge, according to unofficial results of a recount in the tight Second District race.
"What's done is done," Etheridge said Friday afternoon in conceding defeat.
The seven-term Democrat picked up six votes on Ellmers after voting results were tabulated a second time, but it was nowhere near enough to overcome her 1,489-vote lead following the Nov. 2 election.
The State Board of Elections still must audit the results and will meet next Tuesday to certify the results of all elections statewide.
Etheridge touted his accomplishments during a brief news conference, saying he worked hard to help veterans, senior citizens, farmers and students across the 10-county district and elsewhere. He said he doesn't regret his support for controversial measures like national health care reform.
"You do the right thing for the right reason," he said.
He blamed his defeat on "dirty politics" and outside money that boosted Ellmers.
"The combination of the national tide that swept the country, massive amounts of secret corporate cash funding a campaign of distortions and dirty politics by Washington, D.C., partisan operatives was just too much to overcome," he said.
In June, an online video showed Etheridge engaged in a sidewalk confrontation with a man in Washington. He grabbed the arm and then the neck of the 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. The National Republican Congressional Committee later acknowledged that it sent the two men, who identified themselves as students, to confront Etheridge.
Ellmers made no apologies for the campaign, saying in a statement issued Friday afternoon that the election process can be "bruising" sometimes.
"This election, Americans voted to change Washington, and I have been elected to play a role in bringing that change to Congress. I will do all that I can to meet that challenge," she said.
Because less than 1 percent of the 189,800 ballots cast in the race separated the two candidates after the election, Etheridge requested a recount last week.
In the recount, he lost eight votes, while Ellmers lost 14. Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said voting machines might have jammed on Election Day, causing a few ballots to be read twice.
Recount figures show that each candidate won five counties in the Second District, but Ellmers piled up a sizable lead in Johnston County – the 14,500-vote difference was the largest of any county – that Etheridge couldn't overcome.
"As I prepare to leave elected office, I do so with my head held high and my heart filled with gratitude for all the people who have helped me along life’s journey," Etheridge said.
He said he would decide later whether to run again in 2012 but noted that the margin of Ellmers' victory amounted to nine votes per precinct.
Ellmers said the recount cost her campaign at least $40,000 in legal and other costs.
She has spent the week in Washington, D.C., getting oriented with the job in anticipation that she would be declared the official winner.
"I actually sat down at Thanksgiving last year and informed my family that I was planning to run for this office, so it's incredible to think, a year later, here I am," she told WRAL News.
Like other newly elected Tea Party Republicans, she said she believes she was given a mandate by voters.
"I have just learned that, across this country, everyone in America is so ready for a new start. They're ready for Washington to really work for them. They feel that Washington hasn't listened," she said.
Ellmers said she's ready to get to work – she will take over Etheridge's old Capitol Hill office – but she doesn't plan to forget her North Carolina roots.
"I'm going to maintain that ability, but I've expanded it. (Washington) will be an extension of North Carolina now," she said.
State House recounts
In state legislative races, Cumberland County elections director Terri Robertson said that recounts completed late Wednesday show Democratic Rep. Rick Glazier leading Republican Jackie Warner by 46 votes, while Democratic Rep. Diane Parfitt leads GOP challenger Johnny Dawkins by 108 votes.
Warner filed a request for a new election because she said there were irregularities in ballot tallies and problems with electronic voting machines. The county board will hear the protest Monday.
A Rowan County recount also gave Republican Harry Walker a 166-vote victory over Democratic incumbent Lorene Coates.
Should the results stand, Republicans will have a 68-52 majority in the state House come January.