Angry House Republicans yesterday called for a new election in Indiana's 8th Congressional District after Democrat Frank McCloskey emerged from a long and bitter recount with a four-vote victory over Republican challenger Richard D. McIntyre.
Democrats, dismissing the Republican charges, said they would move to seat McCloskey, probably next week. The seat has been vacant since January, when Democrats refused to seat McIntyre, twice awarded the seat after other recounts. The dispute has created bitter, partisan divisions in the House, and the narrowness of McCloskey's victory is expected to increase Republicans' hostility.
McCloskey, who held the seat in the last Congress, was declared the unofficial winner late Thursday by a House task force overseeing the final recount.
"The bottom line is that this is a credible result, the only credible result," Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a letter to colleagues.
But Rep. William M. Thomas (R-Calif.), lone Republican on the three-member task force that oversaw the final recount, protested that Democrats had stolen the election Thursday night with partisan decisions. "What happened last night . . . can be characterized as nothing short of a rape," Thomas said yesterday. He accused Democrats of trying to "humiliate," "dominate," "conquer" and "show that they're superior."
Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.), chairman of the task force, said Thomas and other Republicans are angry because they lost the seat. "The basic concern of the other side is not so much, frankly, with the process as with the way the votes came in," Panetta said. "Obviously, when it's close, one side is going to be disappointed.
"I don't think there was anything in the process or the decisions that undermined the credibility of the final vote. There's no question in my mind that the recount director and the GAO [General Accounting Office] did an outstanding job in conducting what was a very credible election," he said.
Thomas sharply criticized several 2-to-1 votes not to count certain disputed ballots Thursday night. He said Democrats had voted not to count 32 absentee ballots held by county clerks after agreeing last week to count several similar absentee ballots sent to 8th District precincts. He said Democrats counted ballots "until their man is in the lead, then they stop counting."
One Democratic lawyer said about 100 such absentee ballots were considered "defective" by county clerks and never sent to precincts. Some "defective" ballots accidentally were sent to precincts and counted. Democrats said McIntyre gained two votes that way.
But Panetta charged that Republicans did not push for counting absentee ballots still held by county clerks "until [Thursday] night when they knew they were behind."
The House task force is to meet Monday to receive a final report on the recount, conducted by the GAO, and is to send results to the House Administration Committee. A move to seat McCloskey could come later next week.
Republicans said they have not agreed on their next step, which could be to move to vacate the seat and seek a special election. They plan to meet Monday.
McCloskey said he doubts that support exists for a new election. "It would take 60 to 90 days, and I don't think anyone wants that," he said.
McIntyre expressed bitterness. "I'm not surprised they stole the election," he said, "but I didn't think they'd do it so blatantly."
On election night Nov. 6, McCloskey held a 72-vote lead. When a partial recount showed McIntyre ahead by 34 votes, the Republican secretary of state certified him the winner. But House Democrats refused to seat him. In February, after another recount, McIntyre was again certified the winner. But Democrats charged that more than 5,000 ballots had been excluded