Complete but unofficial results show veteran Democratic U.S. Rep Mike McIntyre leading Republican challenger David Rouzer by 507 votes out of more than 334,000 that were cast. That's a margin of 0.16 percent, close enough to trigger a mandatory recount if requested by Rouzer, a two-term state senator.
A member of his party's conservative Blue Dog caucus, the 56-year-old McIntyre is seeking a 9th term. National Republican leaders saw the district as a prime opportunity to expand the party's majority in the U.S. House after redistricting, and the resulting ad war ballooned into one of the most expensive congressional races in the country.
The vote tally could still change as county boards of elections count provisional and additional absentee ballots, but deputy state elections director Johnnie McLean said such late additions typically don't affect the outcome.
"You're not talking about huge numbers out there, but the numbers appear close enough that a recount will be ordered if requested," McLean said Wednesday.
The Rouzer campaign released a statement Wednesday afternoon. It read, "With many uncounted provisional and military ballots still outstanding, the race is too close to call and is now in the hands of election officials. As for the next step, it is our understanding that election officials will start a canvass of the votes as early as next week in each of the counties, which would need to be completed by Friday, November 16. We will let this process play out and go from there."
North Carolina's 7th Congressional District encompasses a largely rural stretch of eastern North Carolina sprinkled with small towns. New district lines drafted by the state's Republican-dominated legislature last year cut out heavily Democratic precincts in central Wilmington and McIntyre's hometown of Lumberton.
As a state senator, Rouzer voted for those new district boundaries. He is a resident of Republican-leaning Johnston County, which was added to the district.
Even before the changes, the district was trending Republican, voting to re-elect President George W. Bush in 2004 and for GOP nominee John McCain in 2008. McIntyre narrowly survived the Tea Party wave of 2010, which swamped many of the remaining rural Democrats in Congress.