MARQUETTE - Despite what seemed to be a public concession, Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress Gary McDowell is insisting he is still in the race for Michigan's 1st Congressional District.
According to the Associated Press, incumbent U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, collected 2,297 more votes than McDowell of Rudyard, but the challenger is eagerly awaiting the full tally from absentee and overseas ballots.
"I am so proud of the grassroots campaign we built to fight for hard-working middle class families in Northern Michigan," McDowell said in a written statement sent late Wednesday morning. "We owe it to them and our overseas military to let the process continue and make sure that all absentee and provisional ballots are counted."
Approximately three hours earlier, however, McDowell had congratulated Benishek in a telephone call with the Escanaba Daily Press.
"It was a great race. Congratulations to Dan Benishek. Hope he does well," McDowell told the Daily Press shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday. "I'm proud of the race we ran."
McDowell campaign manager Zach Knowling said this morning that those comments were made prior to McDowell seeing the final returns and didn't constitute a concession.
"If Gary actually was to concede, he would call the Congressman first. That would be the right thing to do," he said. "That hasn't happened yet."
McDowell's campaign, according to the Wednesday statement, is now "looking to resolve discrepancies between AP-reported numbers and tallying errors in some counties."
Benishek campaign spokesman Raffi Williams said this morning that he had compared the AP numbers, by county, with the numbers reported by the Michigan Secratary of State. He found no discrepancies.
"I've not heard of any of this," he said. "I saw the press release, too, and I do not know what he's referring to."
Knowling said the statement referred to an early discrepancy between the AP numbers and those reported by the Secretary of State. The McDowell campaign, he said, wasn't implying that anything "nefarious" had happened.
McDowell, he said, wants to wait until local canvassing boards complete the task of verifying tallies before he makes a "more informed decision." He anticipated that would happen Friday.
Following the verification of votes, Williams said, little will change.
"We're going to see that Dr. Dan Benishek is still our congressman," he said.
Claiming victory in the race, Benishek issued a statement Wednesday thanking voters, as well as his friends, family and staff.
"Michigan's 1st District voted for jobs, the American Dream and limited government, but just because the election is over does not mean our job is done," Benishek said. "The hardest part is yet to come."
In the race for Michigan's 1st Congressional District - which represents the entire Upper Peninsula and a portion of northwestern lower Michigan - Benishek netted 166,902 votes, according to the Michigan Secretary of State's unofficial tally from Wednesday afternoon. McDowell had 164,580 votes, while Libertarian candidate Emily Salvette had 10,920 and Green Party candidate Ellis Boal had 4,158.
The tight Benishek-McDowell race features the same two major party candidates who faced off for the seat in 2010. Benishek won that battle by 11 percentage points.
Benishek said that, upon his return to Congress, his goals will remain the same.
"For the next two years my focus will remain on bringing jobs back to Northern Michigan, reigning in the spending and fighting to keep the American Dream alive for our children and grandchildren," he said.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.