ALBANY, Ga. -- Republican Mike Keown conceded the race for representative of the Second Congressional District Wednesday morning to U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, after the latest election returns from the Georgia Secretary of State's office showed the nine-term incumbent holding an insurmountable 4,756 vote lead with 99 percent of the district's precincts reporting.
Keown contacted Bishop later in the day and congratulated him on his victory.
"Conventional wisdom says Republican candidates don't win in large urban areas with a large minority demographic," Keown said early Wednesday. "We got beat by Albany and Muscogee County. "We put together a good team. We ran a good race, and we were in it until the end.
"Now we'll take some time off and regroup."
With 99 percent of the district's vote counted, unofficial results from the secretary of state's office show Bishop with 86,370 votes, or 51.4 percent, to Keown's 81,594, or 48.6 percent.
Out of the 167,964 votes cast, 51,821 -- 30.8 percent -- were polled in Dougherty and Muscogee counties. Bishop received 37,329, or 72 percent, of the votes cast in those two counties.
In the remaining 32 counties of the district, Keown claimed 57.8 percent of the vote. Bishop carried 12 of the district's 32 counties while Keown carried the remaining 20.
At 1:15 a.m. Wednesday, Bishop declared victory before a handful of diehard supporters at the Albany Civic Center where he had earlier held a victory party.
"It was a very, very long night, but it was also very sweet," Bishop said Wednesday afternoon. "We were worried for a while but also knew there were 17,000 votes in Muscogee County and 5,000 in Dougherty County that were still unaccounted for. I felt fairly confident we would be able to be victorious."
As votes from the two counties came in late Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning, Keown saw his sizeable lead over Bishop evaporate, with the incumbent pulling into the lead around midnight and Keown reclaiming a slim advantage a few minutes later.
At the 1 a.m. mark, Bishop was back in the lead by 3 percent.
Hours earlier The Associated Press threw both campaigns into disarray when it declared Keown the winner in the race at 10:55 p.m.
However, WALB-TV quickly followed suit in projecting Keown as the winner. Bishop did not concede and Keown did not declare victory.
At the time of the AP call, Keown was running almost 6 percentage points ahead of Bishop and leading in more than half of the district's counties. The AP projected that Bishop would not be able to erase Keown's lead despite the fact that Muscogee County and Dougherty County were still counting ballots.
"We need to understand what we missed in our data, how it was missed and learn from it." AP South Atlantic Bureau Chief Michelle Williams said in a written statement.
"I'll have to admit I was worried there for a bit, but then I wonder how the AP can call an election with so many votes out and only 5,000 votes separating the candidates," Bishop said early Wednesday morning. "There were 20,000 to 30,000 votes still uncounted when they called the race."
The AP withdrew the call at 1:54 a.m. (nearly 45 minutes after Bishop declared victory) and tapped Bishop the winner at 10:38 a.m.
In fact, more than an hour after the nation's largest news agency made its call on the race, Bishop was up 157 votes. Twenty minutes later, Keown was back ahead.
But Keown's prospects for an upset win were looking dimmer as Muscogee County, traditionally a Bishop stronghold, hadn't yet reported all of its votes. At 1:10 a.m., Muscogee pushed Bishop into his strongest lead. With 76 percent of its precincts reporting, 18,486 of the county's 22,918 votes had gone Bishop's way.
Several Dougherty precincts had people waiting in line when the polls closed at 7 p.m. One precinct reportedly had more than 50 people waiting to cast ballots. Reporting of results was also delayed after one of the precinct cards was left at the precinct and elections officials had to return to the polling place to retrieve it. Keown campaign officials expressed concerned over the vote card that apparently was left unattended.
"I was surprised that the election was as close as it was, but in the end Muscogee and Dougherty counties came through for him (Bishop)," University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said. "You've got to remember that in 2006, Bishop carried all 32 counties in the district. On Tuesday he only carried 12 counties.
"He lost a lot of white support over the health care bill."
Despite Bishop's victory, the GOP's takeover of the House means the congressman will begin his 10th term in the new Democratic minority and will lose some influence as a result.
"There is no doubt that, now as a member of the minority party, Bishop will lose influence over legislation," Bullock said. "He will be far less effective than he was before as a member of the majority."
Bishop, however, seems confident of being able to work with the majority party in a vastly different looking House than the one he left in Washington.
"Maybe it will be difficult (to work with the GOP majority), and maybe it won't," Bishop said. "You have to remember I've been in congress for 18 years, and eight of those were in the minority. I've worked with presidents of both parties, and I've been able to reach across the aisle on many occasions.
"I am confident that I will still be able to effectively serve and address the needs of the people of the Second Congressional District."