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Numbers point to a Trivedi win, but Pike doesn’t concede

Numbers point to a Trivedi win, but Pike doesn’t concede

READING—Democrat Manan Trivedi appeared to have won the hotly-contest primary in the 6th Congressional District late Tuesday night, holding a narrow lead over opponent Doug Pike hours after polls clsoed. But even with news organizations calling the race for Trivedi, Pike had yet to concede, telling supporters that the race was too close to call and couldn’t be decided until at least Wednesday.

Action in the close race extended well past midnight and ended with the possibility of a recount in the air, as both candidates spent most of the night huddled away from their supporters. As returns came in, the mood at Trivedi’s election night party here was incrasingly optimistic, while the atmosphere among Pike supporters grew more anxious. At one point Pike said votes remained to be counted in Chester County, but county records published online indicated that all votes had been tallied, and that Trivedi was hanging on to a 672-vote lead, or 1.6 percent. Trivedi won Berks County by a large margin and edged Pike in Montgomery County. Pike won big in Chester County.

If the results hold, it will amount to an extraordinary change in political fortunes from nine months ago, when Pike appeared to be cruising toward the party’s nomination. Trivedi came on the scene in September as an insurgent candidate, but quickly won over party leaders and rank-and-file activists alike, several of whom changed their endorsements in the race to back Trivedi, a Reading doctor. The closing chapter of the primary seemed appropriate for a race that was bitter almost from the start, and remained heated through the last days of the campaign.

It remained unclear what action Pike, a former Inquirer editorial writer who has put $1 million of his own money into the race, would undertake. If the current margin remains valid, state law allows him to ask for a recount, but only if he pays for it. Incumbent Republican Jim Gerlach easily topped Tea Party activist Patrick Sellers in the GOP primary, winning about 80 percent of the vote. The district is currently ranked No. 6 on the Congressional Power Rankings.

After spending much of Tuesday night in a West Reading hotel with his wife and 3-week-old daughter, Trivedi greeted about 20 supporters at a restaurant here, who greeted him with applause as he walked through the door about 1 a.m.

“We’re not calling anything for sure right now but things look good,” Trivedi said. “We’re waiting for the final word.”

He said the next step was to double-check returns from each county and await word from the Pike campaign.

“We’re still waiting for the official word, but it looks like Manan won,” Trivedi campaign manager Ed Niles said.

Pike’s election-night gathering in Bryn Mawr was a roller-coaster ride, as supporters started out with high hopes in a race that many political watchers still expected Pike to win on the strength of his paid media campaign. He aired TV advertisements in the closing days of the race while Trivedi did not, and blanketed the suburban Philadelphia district with more direct mail. Shortly before midnight, supporters brought out a chocolate cake and sang “Happy Birthday” as a belated celebration of Pike’s 61st. Pike said the night was still young.

But after a number of hushed phone calls and huddles with campaign staffers, Pike said they would be going to sleep with the race still undecided.

“The race is down to a whisker and not every vote has been counted,” Pike said. “And every vote has to be counted.

“Either Dr. Manan or I would be such a better congressman than the incumbent we’ve got, that it’s not even funny,” he added. “I hope to serve in Congress, but I will assure you that whatever happens tonight or tomorrow, I will continue to serve people.”

Asked about Pike’s comments after it was clear Chester County’s records were showing a full vote-tally, Pike campaign manager Andrew Eldredge-Martin said the results were still too close to call. He also pointed out that military absentee ballots aren’t due until the end of the week—although those are votes that, at least according to conventional wisdom, would trend for Trivedi, an Iraq War veteran.

“It’s too close to know definitively right now,” Eldredge-Martin said. He told supporters that the campaign would be looking closely at the legal basis for a recount.

In Reading, Trivedi said he’d like to hear exactly what concerns the Pike campaign has with the returns, and that “if they are legitimate concerns with the vote, that makes sense to me.”

But if the concerns aren’t legitimate, Trivedi said, Democrats should start to focus their efforts on Gerlach.

“We need to start tomorrow if we’re going to turn this district blue,” Trivedi said. “We have six months and we need every day.”

Pike declined any further comment as he left shortly before 1 a.m., but said he was going to bed in a good mood.

“I’m feeling exhausted,” he said.

Trivedi told staff and supporters that they couldn’t rest for long.

“Tomorrow, the real fight begins,” he said. “Tomorrow, the real work begins.”

Rebecca VanderMeulen reported from Reading and Amy Brisson reported from Bryn Mawr. See a video clip below of Trivedi’s speech to supporters.

May 19, 2010 at 7:00 am

--Rebecca VanderMeulen and Amy Brisson

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