Hundreds of uncounted ballots clouded the outcome Wednesday of a tight Republican congressional primary in which the top two candidates were separated by 285 votes out of more than 48,000 cast.
Walcher or Smith will face Democrat John Salazar (search), who had no primary opponent. The winner in the general election will succeed retiring GOP Rep. Scott McInnis (search). Smith is the incumbent's brother-in-law, but McInnis has endorsed Walcher.
Salazar, whose brother is the Democratic nominee for the state's open Senate seat, is considered a strong contender for winning the seat for the Democrats and boosting the party's seats in the House, where Republicans hold a 229-205 advantage.
With all precincts reporting, Walcher had 15,497 votes to Smith's 15,212 votes. Three other Republicans lagged far behind.
"Certainly, it's close enough that we need to take a wait-see attitude," said Gay Hammer, Smith's campaign spokesman.
An Associated Press survey of the sprawling 3rd District showed at least 286 provisional ballots - cast by voters whose eligibility may be in question - remained uncounted. The total could be much higher because four counties had not determined how many provisional ballots they had.
It is not known whether the results will change the lead or close the gap enough to trigger an automatic recount.
"The votes might change by a handful, but the numbers are what they are," Walcher said.
Counting the provisional ballots could take up to 12 days, secretary of state spokeswoman Lisa Doran said.
A hard-fought congressional primary in neighboring Kansas also turned on provisional ballots in the last week.
Former Justice Department official Kris Kobach led former fighter pilot Adam Taff by just 87 votes after last week's GOP primary to challenge Rep. Dennis Moore. A count of more than 2,500 provisional ballots widened Kobach's lead to 207 votes out of nearly 89,000 cast, prompting Taff to concede.
In Missouri, a federal judge Wednesday temporarily blocked certification of the state's primary election results from last week's federal and statewide races amid a lawsuit over provisional ballots. The judge set a hearing for next week on whether to count the ballots of some people who voted at the wrong polling places.