OMAHA — Lee Terry, the longest-serving member of Nebraska's congressional delegation, is conceding victory to Democrat Brad Ashford.
At one point, it appeared Terry, the seven-term Republican incumbent, would wait it out until week's end for election officials in Omaha to count some 15,000 absentee ballots that were returned too close to Tuesday's election to be counted along with the others.
Without those ballots, Ashford, a state senator, led the race for Nebraska's 2nd District House seat by some 4,100 votes.
"We're winning this race," Ashford told a crowd of some 75 people who lingered at his campaign party past 1:30 a.m. Wednesday. "We do not believe that Mr. Terry can win this race."
The Terry campaign held on, however, apparently in hopes that the uncounted Douglas County ballots might be enough to swing the race in his favor.
Terry will address the media at 1:30 p.m.
Tuesday night, Terry campaign manager Kent Grisham said the camp felt "optimistic enough" about the uncounted ballots to wait for the results. "These precincts, from what we believe, they're important to us," he said.
On Wednesday, Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps said the ballots, which arrived in the mail on Monday and Tuesday, were from all over the county and split between Republicans and Democrats. Terry's campaign would have needed more than 60 percent of those ballots to go his way in order to claim victory.
About a dozen people in Phipps' office were working to verify, open and count those ballots on Wednesday, he said, a process that wouldn't be complete until Friday.
Those envelopes need to be verified by trained staff, then opened by hand because they do not fit in standard letter-opening machines, he said.
"I understand why everybody's anxious to know what they say," Phipps said. But he stressed diligence, especially when the results of such a hotly contested election might be on the line.
"There's no putting the genie back in the bottle," he said.
Now, it seems, the pressure is off.