LEXINGTON, Ky. — Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler finally won his close re-election race Friday when his Republican challenger conceded 10 days after Election Day.
A recanvass of the election results a few hours earlier moved just one more vote into Republican Andy Barr's column and gave Chandler a 648-vote margin of victory. Chandler's win in a district that Republican John McCain carried in 2008 represented one of the few bright spots for southern Democrats this month and ended a costly contest that featured heavy TV advertising by both sides.
"Some of my friends said that I am the Zenyatta of political candidates this year," Barr said, referring to the favored horse who lost last week's Breeders Cup race. "We came up short by a nose."
Barr said he had called Chandler to congratulate him. Chandler, who was first elected to Congress in 2004, said afterward at a news conference that he plans to spend the next two years focusing on job growth and the economy.
Chandler, 51, said his narrow win was educational.
"If nothing else, the 2010 election showed us that anything can happen in a two-year period," he said. "The 2010 election was quite dramatically different from the 2008 election. And the 2012 election may be dramatically different from the 2010 election."
The Chandler-Barr contest was one of a handful nationwide that remained undecided going into this week.
Chandler – the grandson of A.B. "Happy" Chandler, a popular one-time Kentucky governor and senator – struggled during the campaign to withstand a massive Republican surge nationally that swept the GOP to control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Chandler had 119,812 votes, or 50.1 percent, to Barr's 119,164 votes, or 49.9 percent.
A recanvass is a machine-by-machine review of vote totals produced by county election officials. The cost of a recanvass is minimal and is done by the counties, said Les Fugate, spokesman for the secretary of state's office.
"The recanvass, as in most cases, didn't really change the results very much," said Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson. "... But it's important to make sure that the math was checked, that the numbers were accurate."
Barr said he could find no reason to justify a recount, which would have required each ballot to be counted again. A candidate who asks for a recount has to pay for it.
Barr said he plans to return to his law practice in the short term and would talk about his political future later. He told supporters he was proud of his campaign.
"We overcame the odds, ignored the critics and made this one of the most competitive congressional races in the nation against one of the most well-known names in Kentucky politics."
The Chandler victory completed a status quo federal election in Kentucky in which all six U.S. House incumbents – four Republicans and two Democrats – were re-elected.
Republicans also held on to a U.S. Senate seat when Republican tea party favorite Rand Paul defeated Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway. Paul replaces Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, who did not seek a third term.
The state Board of Elections is scheduled to meet Nov. 22 to certify election results.
Chandler was first elected to Congress in a 2004 special election to fill the term of Republican Ernie Fletcher, who left Congress to become governor. Fletcher defeated Chandler in the 2003 governor's race.
Barr worked as deputy counsel to then-Gov. Fletcher.
The candidates and outside groups spent heavily on TV ads during the campaign. Chandler touted his work lining up federal spending for the Lexington-based 6th district. Barr ran spots that criticized the rising national debt, saying "career politicians in Washington are bankrupting our country."