RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre reclaimed his longtime southeastern North Carolina congressional seat on Wednesday night, earning a razor-thin victory over his Republican challenger after a machine recount produced hardly any change in the margin.
Republican rival David Rouzer conceded defeat after the recount in the 12th and final county in the 7th Congressional District showed McIntyre keeping a 654-vote lead over Rouzer. McIntyre had a 655-vote lead out of more than 336,000 votes cast before Rouzer requested the recount that began Monday.
The concession means McIntyre will return to Capitol Hill for a ninth term in January after surviving a political battle influenced by district boundaries redrawn by Republicans last year.
"I am very grateful to have the honor of serving the citizens of eastern North Carolina," McIntyre said in a statement. "My commitment has always been to serve the people back home."
He thanked Rouzer "for his commitment and dedication to public service, and I wish him well in his future endeavors."
Rouzer, an outgoing state senator who once served in U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms' office, voted for the new congressional maps. With the concession, Rouzer chose not to ask for a more detailed hand-to-eye recount.
With a completed recount, "we can move forward satisfied that each vote was counted properly and accurately," Rouzer said. "I have called Congressman McIntyre to congratulate him on a hard-fought victory, and I wish him well as he joins a new Congress that will be dealing with very difficult issues facing our country."
Despite Rouzer's defeat, Republicans will now hold nine of the 13 seats in North Carolina's U.S. House delegation for the next two years, compared to the 7-6 Democratic advantage of the two previous years. The GOP-led state Legislature contributed to helping flip three Democratic-held seats in November thanks to its 2011 redistricting maps.
The seats of retiring Democratic Reps. Brad Miller of Raleigh and Heath Shuler of Waynesville went to Republicans George Holding and Mark Meadows, respectively, while GOP candidate Richard Hudson beat Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell.
McIntyre won despite being targeted by national Republicans after redistricting cut out heavily Democratic precincts in central Wilmington and McIntyre's hometown of Lumberton. The boundaries also reached north into Raleigh's conservative-leaning exurbs of Johnston County, where Rouzer lives. The changing 7th District lines and resulting ad war made it one of the most expensive congressional races in the country.
But McIntyre, who will now begin his 9th term in January, survived in part because of his conservative credentials. As a member of his party's conservative Blue Dog caucus, McIntyre often bucked his Democratic leaders, such as by voting for extensions of the Bush-era tax cuts and against President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
McIntyre also was endorsed by the National Rifle Association and hard line anti-abortion and anti-immigration groups that typically support Republicans.
Rouzer, 40, raised the possibility of running again in 2014 in his statement, saying supporters have asked him to consider it.
"With the Christmas season upon us, I am setting any thoughts of my political future to the side," Rouzer said, and refocusing on business interests and enjoying the holidays and his farm.
Even with McIntyre's victory, the new U.S. House remains on track for a 234-201 Republican majority, a narrowing of its 242-193 advantage today, which includes five vacancies.