Despite a spirited challenge, Democratic voters in New York on Tuesday likely granted another two years in Congress to Rep. Charles B. Rangel, who has been there for more than 40 years.
Rangel, a 22-term incumbent who has been the face and voice Harlem politics since 1971, declared victory late Tuesday night in his Democratic primary against state Sen. Adriano Espaillat. The winner of the Democratic primary is expected to coast to re-election to his left-leaning congressional seat in November.
Rangel took the stage at his election night party and declared victory just before midnight with close to 99 percent of votes counted and holding a 47 percent to 44 percent lead. As of 1 a.m., Espaillat had not conceded the race.
As of 6 a.m. Wednesday, the Associated Press continued to characterize the race as “too close to call,” citing an undetermined number of absentee and provisional ballots outstanding.
The race was a rematch of a 2012 showdown between Rangel and Espaillat in which the incumbent — at the time plagued by an ethics scandal that cost him much of his power in Washington — asked the voters to allow him at least one more term.
But when Rangel, 84, announced last year that he would seek reelection, Espaillat, 59, announced that he would challenge Rangel — arguing that Rangel had stayed too long at the party, had lost his much of his influence and that it was time for new leadership in the district.
During his nearly 44 years in office, Rangel became one of best-known political figures in American politics and a defining voice in the nation’s black politics. The longest-serving member of the New York delegation, he was a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus and became a central figure in liberal Democratic circles.
But Rangel has spent much of the past decade entrenched in scandal.
This year’s campaign focused both on whether Rangel had stayed in office too long and the seismic shifts in the demographics of Harlem.
In recent years, Rangel’s district has been re-carved, turning what has for years been a majority-black district into one that is 52 percent Hispanic and adding new parts of the Bronx where Rangel is not as well-known.
Political observers had speculated that, given those demographic shifts, this could be the year that Rangel was ousted. But, Rangel kept up an energetic campaign, attacking his opponents as inexperienced and ineffective.
With 99 percent of the vote reported, Rangel was ahead of Espaillat 47.5 percent to 43.5 percent, while two other challengers, Michael Walrond, and Yolanda Garcia had 8 percent and 1 percent, respectively.
Rangel had lobbed sharp attacks at Espaillat, and called in many favors from friends in Washington.
In recent weeks, he secured endorsements and campaign appearances from former president Bill Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, among others.