The North Carolina State Board of Elections confirmed the winner of the state’s closest House race today.
Republican Renee Ellmers defeated Democrat Bob Etheridge for the seat in the 2nd Congressional District in a race determined by less than 1 percent of votes cast. After a recount that did not change the election’s outcome, Etheridge, who was running for an eighth term, conceded defeat Friday.
Ellmers was initially announced the winner Nov. 2 by a margin of 1,489 votes. When the district’s 10 counties retallied the results, Ellmers’s lead on Etheridge narrowed by six votes. Including Ellmers, Republicans won six of 13 seats in the House of Representatives in the midterm elections.
In a statement released by his office, Etheridge congratulated Ellmers, recounted his accomplishments in office and identified external factors that he said contributed to his loss.
“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 too much to overcome,” the statement said, likely alluding to a well-publicized episode—allegedly the brainchild of Republican strategists—where he was filmed roughly handling a college student.
Ellmers was also the target of negative press during her campaign, as she was widely criticized for an ad condemning the proposed Park51 Muslim community center in New York City.
Conservatives were divided on Ellmers. She was endorsed by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement, but the Republican National Congressional Committee refused to fund her campaign.
Although surprised by the race’s outcome, Duke Democrats President Ben Bergmann, a senior, is confident that Etheridge will run again.
“The election of Ellmers is pretty shocking. I think it shows the power of certain fear tactics she used around the mosque debate in New York, as well as the salience of the Tea Party,” Bergmann said. “I strongly anticipate that [Etheridge will] take back the seat.”
But David Rohde, professor of political science, said the election results were not unexpected.
“[Etheridge] was far from being a healthy incumbent this year,” Rhode said. “It’s the kind of thing that happens in an election like this, in that people who normally wouldn’t be in danger become vulnerable and then idiosyncratic things happen that determine when people lose.”
Since Nov. 2, Ellmers has been attending congressional freshman orientation in Washington, D.C. during the recount process. Her victory coincides with the victories of a number of other Republicans in the House. The party gained more than 60 seats in the midterm elections, the highest number gained by either party in one election since 1948.
Duke College Republicans President Stephen Bergin, a senior, is excited about the possibilities of a Republican-controlled House.
“In last four years there’s been a lot of trouble with the party.... I hope we’re entering a new chapter where people are more willing to identify as Republican,” he said.