The unexpectedly tight contest for control of Maryland's westernmost House district was decided Friday — more than two days after polls closed — when the Republican challenger conceded the race to Democratic incumbent Rep. John Delaney.
Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent who built a national conservative following during the campaign for the 6th Congressional District, announced the concession in a statement after an initial round of absentee ballot counts resulted in a consistent lead for Delaney.
"After a hard-fought race, it is now time to move on and allow the citizens of Maryland to be heard," Bongino said. "Although there are still some outstanding votes, it is clear that Congressman Delaney will emerge the victor."
The race, which few predicted would be competitive, wound up as one of a handful in the country not decided on Election Day. The win means Maryland's congressional Democrats all secured another term in a midterm election year that heavily favored the GOP.
Delaney was ahead by just under 2,000 votes on Friday evening. Election officials planned to count an unknown number of provisional and absentee ballots next week.
Though the campaign became more negative in its final days — with both candidates airing attack ads on television — Delaney and Bongino praised each other in statements Friday. Bongino noted Delaney had written him a note during the campaign to ask about his wife, Paula, who became ill.
"It reminded me that although our wonderful country is currently marked by passionate political differences, these differences should never become personal," Bongino wrote. "The artificial divisions in our country created by those interested in stirring emotions today, rather than fixing tomorrow, are the only enemy that stands a chance at dismantling what we have created here."
Delaney issued a statement applauding Bongino's campaign.
"He has dedicated much of his life to serving his country and in our many times running into one another on the campaign trail, he was always a complete gentleman ready with a warm handshake," Delaney said. "We don't agree on how to get there, but Mr. Bongino and I want many of the same things for our country."
Delaney had declared victory Wednesday after an Election Day in which slow returns from heavily Democratic Montgomery County gave Bongino a lead for much of the evening.
Independent analysts had predicted Delaney would win re-election — and few saw the contest as particularly competitive. But there were late signs that the race was tightening.
Delaney, a former banker from Potomac, wrote himself an $800,000 check in the final days of the race and was airing a television ad that portrayed Bongino as too conservative for the district.
Bongino, a Severna Park resident, developed a national following with appearances on conservative media. He raised $1.2 million in campaign cash and aired television ads criticizing Delaney as unfriendly to business.
Delaney unseated 20-year incumbent Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett in 2012. The 20-point victory in that race came after Democrats in Annapolis redrew the district to favor their party.
The 6th District includes Western Maryland and parts of Frederick and Montgomery counties.
Eight House incumbents — seven Democrats and one Republican — were up for re-election in Maryland. In the Baltimore region, Democratic Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, John Sarbanes and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, and Republican Rep. Andy Harris all easily won re-election.