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Published Sat, Nov 24, 2012 08:00 PM
Modified Tue, Nov 27, 2012 07:39 PM

7th District race still up in the air

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- cjarvis@newsobserver.com
Tags: Mike McIntyre | David Rouzer | U.S. Congress

One of the most expensive congressional races in the country – pitting longtime Democratic incumbent Rep. Mike McIntyre of Lumberton against Republican state Sen. David Rouzer from Johnston County – was also the closest.

And now it will be the last to be settled, as Rouzer on Tuesday called for a recount.

Although eight-term incumbent McIntyre declared victory on Friday night after unofficial totals gave him a 655-vote lead, state law allows for a recount if the difference is within 1 percent. In this case, it’s well within that margin in an election that drew a total of 336,739 votes.

The outcome won’t be known until after Thanksgiving. Machine recounts will be done on Monday and Tuesday, and finalized by Wednesday, according to state Elections Director Gary Bartlett.

Either candidate can then request “hand-eye recounts,” in which ballots are individually counted by a person. That would take place later next week.

Bartlett said the machine recount will cost more than $50,000. If hand-eye recounts are required throughout the district, that would add $150,000, he said. Each of the 12 counties in District 7 would be responsible for paying for their own recount.

Rouzer had until noon Tuesday to call for a recount, and he did it with about half an hour to spare. He issued a statement saying he was seeking the recount because this was the closest congressional election in the country, and because an “irregularity” in the vote count in Bladen County shows that mistakes can be made.

“In a race this close, accidental human error could easily change the outcome,” Rouzer said. “It is important to ensure that every legal vote cast is properly and accurately counted.”

In Bladen County, votes from a single precinct were accidentally counted twice on election night because of a problem with a battery in a computer card, according to state and county elections officials. The duplication was discovered and corrected the next day, according to the state Board of Elections, reducing McIntyre’s lead by about 100 votes.

“I was able to go back in and correct it by a simple keystroke,” said Cynthia Shaw, Bladen County’s election director.

Shaw bristled that Rouzer cited that glitch as a reason to recount.

“There was no irregularity of any kind,” she said. “I would appreciate it if the David Rouzer campaign called me. They don’t know what they’re talking about.”

McIntyre’s campaign manager, Lachlan McIntosh, released a statement in response to the recount demand.

“While we respect the legal right for a recount, it is unfortunate that taxpayer dollars, time, and resources will be spent on a process that has been closely monitored,” McIntosh said. “All twelve county boards of elections in the 7th District have carefully reviewed the votes and the results have already shown Mike McIntyre to be the winner.

“For someone who has claimed fiscal responsibility, David Rouzer is asking taxpayers to pay for his pursuit of his own personal political ambition in a district he had drawn for himself.”

Calling for recounts

Recounts generally don’t change the outcome of elections. But when the margin is slim, candidates find it hard to walk away after a tough campaign.

On Monday, Linda Coleman threw in the towel without calling for a recount in her campaign against Dan Forest for lieutenant governor. She trailed Forest by about 7,000 votes out of 4.3 million cast. A statewide recount would have cost the state’s counties between $1.5 million and $2.5 million.

One other close contest is also headed for a recount. State Sen. Stan White, a Democrat from Dare County, called for a recount on Tuesday after results showed him trailing by 32 votes challenger Bill Cook, a Republican member of the House who served one term. White was appointed in January 2011 to fill the seat of Sen. Marc Basnight, who retired after 18 years.

Cook had called on White to skip the recount in order to save the counties in the 1st Senate District money.

Effects of redistricting

The 7th Congressional District is composed of all or parts of 12 counties stretching from Johnston County in the Triangle to Brunswick County down east. It was redrawn this year by the GOP majority in the General Assembly to give Rouzer a distinct advantage by including more Republican voters.

Rouzer’s stronghold was the newly added Johnston County, where he lives. McIntyre did especially well in Bladen, Columbus, Hoke and Sampson counties, while some of the strongest support was carved out of the district, such as Lumberton and Fayetteville.

Yet Rouzer made significant inroads in coastal counties where he, as a two-term state senator from the Triangle, had to introduce himself to new voters.

The race has been important to both parties nationally, as Republicans tried to extend their control over the House of Representatives and Democrats tried to stanch the losses. That’s what drew about $9 million in outside money, mostly on Rouzer’s behalf.

McIntyre, if the recount falls in his favor, will be the only Democratic Congressional candidate targeted by the GOP in North Carolina to survive. Two-term Democratic incumbent Rep. Larry Kissell lost in the 8th District to Republican Richard Hudson.

Democratic incumbents Rep. Brad Miller and Rep. Heath Shuler didn’t run after districts were redrawn to their disadvantage. Like McIntyre, Shuler was one of the diminishing number of “blue dog Democrats” in the House, so called for their moderate to conservative views.

North Carolina’s congressional delegation shifted from its current 7-6 split that gives Democrats the edge, to either 9-4 or 10-3 Republican.

The Rouzer-McIntyre match-up is the only outstanding race in the country, the online publication POLITICO reports. A House campaign in Louisiana will be decided in a runoff in December, POLITICO reports.

Staff writer Austin Baird contributed.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

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