COLUMBUS, Ohio – Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce won re-election Monday to the U.S. House by a margin so slim that a recount will be required.
Pryce led Democratic challenger Mary Jo Kilroy by 1,055 votes in unofficial results after counties in central Ohio's 15th District counted absentee and provisional ballots weeks after Election Day.
Pryce actually lost Franklin County, the district's most populous that announced its totals Monday. But votes she picked up in two other counties that announced results last week, Madison and Union, helped her keep her lead.
Kilroy, a Franklin County commissioner, had thought the outstanding ballots in the county, including many from Ohio State University students in Columbus, could sway the election in her favor.
The race was one of a few that had remained unresolved across the country since Election Day, when the Democrats took control of Congress.
Pryce joined fellow GOP incumbent Rep. Jean Schmidt in winning a post-election victory in Ohio, delivering good news to a troubled state party that lost control of the governorship, long-held congressional seats in the state and three other key statewide offices.
Pryce ended up with 50.2 percent of the votes, compared with 49.8 percent for Kilroy in the unofficial totals.
An automatic recount is triggered if the difference between the two candidates is less than one-half of one percent.
Pryce said Monday she considers herself the winner and is making plans for her return to Washington.
"I'm glad to see that it was done so that people have confidence in the outcome," Pryce said. "If there is a recount, that will just further the integrity of the process."
Pryce said all votes should be counted in a recount but said it would not be appropriate to challenge numerous ballots.
"Every legal vote should be and must be counted — every single legal vote," Pryce said. "We can't be counting votes that are illegitimate."
Kilroy said automatic recounts in close races protect people's votes, and she does not see the review as delaying the process.
"We've been through one count so far. We should take a look at it again," she said.
Don McTigue, lawyer for Kilroy, said the final numbers confirmed his own estimates of the margin of votes. "I was predicting that it would be just around 1,000 votes," McTigue said. "I was hoping for just psychological reasons to be just under 1,000, but this is still under the free recount category so I'm very happy about that."
The Secretary of State's Office is awaiting the official numbers due Tuesday from the counties before taking the next step, spokesman James Lee said. Once the state office verifies a recount is required, it would notify election officials in the district's three counties that they have 10 days to complete the recount.
Lee anticipates sending the notification Tuesday, which would mean the recount must be done by Dec. 8.
Pryce's narrow margin of victory was a change from past elections when she easily won her seat. She had 60 percent of the vote in 2004 when she beat challenger Mark Brown for the second time in two elections.
The Franklin County elections board, the last board to finish its counting of absentee and provisional ballots in the 15th District race, reviewed just under 21,000 provisional ballots, throwing out about 2,600 of them. Most of the uncounted provisionals were cast by people who weren't registered to vote or voted in the wrong precinct, elections director Matt Damschroder said.
Pryce, until recently the No. 4 Republican in Congress, previous accepted victory in the race — one of the season's nastiest — but Kilroy insisted that uncounted provisional and absentee ballots would lean Democratic.
A seven-term incumbent, Pryce had seen her lead in the campaign turn sharply amid the scandal over U.S. Rep. Mark Foley and GOP leaders' handling of lurid messages he had been sending for years to male congressional pages.
Pryce had publicly named Foley as one of her best friends in Washington, and served on the leadership team under fire over the matter in the weeks leading up to the election.
Kilroy, active for decades in local politics, campaigned on the Democrats' winning strategy around the country: the need for change. She sought to link Pryce to the Bush administration's unpopular war in Iraq, the president's failed social-security privatization plan, and the mounting national debt.
Pryce countered by labeling Kilroy an extremist and a liberal, and emphasized important but unglamourous accomplishments for the district in her TV ads, like flood walls and airports. She suggested that Kilroy's attacks were less than truthful with her "Truth Matters" ad slogan.