After an expensive election and 36 days of disputing and counting absentee ballots, Rep. Tim Bishop finally defeated Randy Altschuler Wednesday, ending the nation's last unresolved congressional race.
Altschuler, a St. James Republican who poured $2.8 million of his own money into the race, conceded the nation's last unresolved congressional election after he found himself behind by at least 263 votes with about 1,000 remaining uncounted absentee ballots.
Altschuler, who led the race by 383 votes before Bishop (D-Southampton) pulled ahead once absentee ballots were counted, called the four-term incumbent Wednesday morning and said he would not seek a full hand recount of the 194,000 ballots cast to spare Suffolk voters the cost.
"Obviously, I was winning for a while and as we went through the remaining ballots it was clear I wasn't going to be successful," Altschuler told Newsday. "I wanted to do the right thing and concede the race to Congressman Bishop so he could do as good a job as he possibly can."
Bishop called the postelection drama "a real lesson in civics. This truly makes the case that every vote counts."
On election night it appeared Bishop had won the election by 3,461 votes, but three days later elections officials found initial reporting was incorrect and Altschuler led by 383. When officials counted 11,000 of 12,000 absentee and affidavit ballots, Bishop regained the lead by the narrowest of margins.
For Bishop, it all amounted to an emotional roller coaster.
"I would be lying to you if I told you I thought I was going to pull through in the absentee and the affidavits," Bishop said. "I thought that this was a race I wasn't going to win."
Bishop will serve his fifth term in Congress and his first in the political minority since Democrats won control in 2006.
"I'm going to have a different job in the next two years," he said. "But in terms of how I and my office approach the nuts and bolts of being a member of Congress, delivering for my constituents, we will do nothing different."
While Bishop and Altschuler each declined to discuss a possible 2012 rematch, Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer said it is possible Altschuler could have greater ambitions than Congress.
"He obviously acquitted himself well and showed he's a good campaigner," Schaffer said. "He's got a future and that doesn't necessarily have to be the 1st Congressional District."