House race in South Fla., 7 other contests drag on
Election Day has come and gone and Republican Rep. Allen West is still fighting for votes - in the courtroom.
West, the freshman tea party-idol struggling for re-election in South Florida, found himself 2,456 votes behind Democratic rival Patrick Murphy in Tuesday's unofficial tally. Citing "disturbing irregularities" at the polls, his campaign was due in a West Palm Beach courtroom Friday on his request to impound ballots and voting machines in Palm Beach County, one of three counties in his congressional district.
"I'm not looking out for anyone to unlevel the playing field," West said Thursday on "Kilmeade and Friends" on Fox News Radio. "All I want to do is to be able to say, `Here's an issue that we believe should be brought up to protect the constituents.'"
While his seemed the most fractious, West's contest was among eight House races with margins too slender for The Associated Press to declare winners as mail-in and provisional votes were still being counted. Along with three races in California, two in Arizona and one each in North Carolina and Utah, the battle between West and Murphy was staggering ahead zombie-like, refusing to die.
"This is just dragging out an election that people are more than willing to have over," said Eric Johnson, a Murphy adviser.
In California, Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., unofficially trails Democratic opponent Ami Bera by 184 votes out of 176,000 cast in the Sacramento area. He estimates around 100,000 absentee and provisional ballots remain to be tallied, and compared the ongoing count to watching a recorded football game.
"It's already been played," he said Thursday. "The votes have already been voted. There's nothing I can do at this point except to ensure that everything that goes on at this point is according to the law."
Most campaigns in races where votes are still being counted, including Lungren-Bera, send observers to watch local officials tally the ballots.
Ironically, Lungren chairs the House Administration Committee, which dispatches bipartisan observers to watch vote-counting in close races if requested by a candidate. The panel is also due to conduct freshman orientation meetings next week for newly elected lawmakers. Contenders in undecided races, including Bera, are routinely invited.
"I guess I'll be welcoming my opponent next week," Lungren said.
Of the eight uncalled races, Democrats led in all but one. Whatever the outcomes, Republicans will control the 435-member House next year with at least 233 seats, though their final margin will be below the 242 they held in the current Congress.
In South Florida, Murphy's campaign shrugged off West's legal action, noting that the margin in their race exceeded the half-percentage point threshold for a recount. The Democrat has already declared victory and was beginning a three-day "thank you" tour on Thursday on the assumption that he will take office in January.
Murphy said he planned to travel to Washington next week for freshman orientation.
"I'm going to leave it up to the lawyers and the judges and let them decide what happens from here," he said. "We're tired of the bickering, we're tired of the back and forth and we want to get to work. We want to put this election behind us."
West was still hoping that uncounted absentee and provisional ballots could narrow his gap. His campaign said he also was planning legal action in St. Lucie County, though the court clerk's office said it had not yet been filed. No such request was made in Martin County.
The California race between Lungren and Bera had the closest margin of the eight undeclared contests.
"We knew we were in a tight race and we were prepared for this," said Josh Wolf, Bera's campaign manager. Still, he said: "It certainly isn't easy."
In the other remaining California races, Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray was 685 votes behind Democrat Scott Peters in the San Diego area in what was one of the most expensive House races. GOP Rep. Mary Bono Mack, first elected in 1998, was trailing Democrat Raul Ruiz by 4,557 votes in the communities around Palm Springs, where there are growing numbers of Hispanics.
There were many close races in California after its 53 congressional districts were redrawn by a bipartisan commission, which put new voters into many incumbents' districts, increasing competition.
Final tallies in each of the three remaining California races could take two weeks.
In Utah, six-term Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, a perennial GOP target, was leading by 2,646 votes over Mia Love, considered a rising Republican star. Matheson declared victory on election night and Love, who would be the first female black Republican in the House, conceded.
But, with thousands of provisional and absentee ballots still to be counted, a winner has yet to be declared. Local election officials won't have a final tally until Nov. 20 but have said they doubt the extra ballots will change the outcome because many are from Salt Lake County, where she did not do strongly.
Utah Republican Party political director Ivan DuBois declined to say if Love was still hopeful, saying: "We want to make sure every vote is counted."
In Arizona, Democratic Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona, who replaced Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after a gunman shot her in the head nearly two years ago, trailed Republican Martha McSally, a former Air Force combat pilot in Iraq, by 426 votes in the Tucson area.
And Democrat Kyrsten Sinema led Republican Vernon Parker by 2,715 votes in a new seat east of Phoenix.
It could take several days for final vote counts in both districts. According to estimates, up to 50,000 ballots must be counted in the Sinema-Parker race, and perhaps half that many in the Barber-McSally contest. Recounts are possible in both.
A North Carolina race so far has Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre 533 votes ahead of GOP rival David Rouzer, a state senator. It will likely take officials until later this month to tally remaining provisional and mail-in ballots, said Gary Bartlett, executive director of the state's Board of Elections.
The margin is close enough to trigger a recount, which must be requested by the losing candidate.
Fram reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Shannon Dininny in Salt Lake City also contributed to this report.