After more than two days of counting votes, ex-Marine Jake Auchincloss was declared the winner early Friday in a tight Democratic primary race to fill the U.S. House seat being vacated by Joe Kennedy III.
The Associated Press called the race around 2 a.m. Friday for Massachusetts' Fourth Congressional District, which had been too close to call since Tuesday's primary. The top two in the crowd of candidates -- Auchincloss and Jesse Mermell -- were separated by about 1.2% of the vote, with Auchincloss taking just over a 2,000-vote advantage.
"I’m honored that the people of the Massachusetts Fourth District have chosen me as the Democratic nominee for Congress," Auchincloss said. "My deepest gratitude goes out to the voters who placed their confidence in my capacity to drive progress.”
On Friday morning, Mermell announced she had conceded the race to Auchincloss and congratulated him on the victory.
While she said she wouldn't be filing for a recount, she added she had "serious concerns" about "gaps" in the vote-counting process.
Mermell was gracious in defeat, but issued a warning that while she's supportive of mail-in voting, the state needs to do better.
"There are some strong signals here that despite everyone's best efforts, we might not be ready for November," Mermell said.
Mermell also gave a nod to ranked-choice voting, a referendum question on the ballot in November. Some have suggested that if the system were in place now, it would have resulted in Mermell winning the election.
Auchincloss says he was an early supporter of ranked-choice voting, but he would not speculate on how it would have affected this race.
"I think trying to get inside of voters' heads and calculations is an unfortunate practice," he said.
In a press conference Friday afternoon, Auchincloss praised Mermell for her campaign.
"I have enormous respect for the passion and purpose that Jesse brought to this race," he said.
Auchincloss pushed back against characterizations that he is a centrist candidate, saying his positions on energy, gun control, immirgant rights and racial justice made him a "pragmatic progressive."
Auchincloss urged Democrats to unite to defeat President Donald Trump in November.
"This is the most consequential election in American history," he said.
The contest took until early Friday to decide after a deluge of mid-pandemic votes overwhelmed several cities and towns during Tuesday's primary.
Nearly 1 million voters, skittish over the coronavirus pandemic, used the mail option for Tuesday's primary. A state judge late Wednesday had approved a petition from Secretary of State William Galvin asking for more time for cities and towns to complete their vote tallies.
The final votes were counted late night in Franklin, where 3,000 mail-in ballots that were supposed to be sent from the Franklin town clerk's office to the polls to be counted on Election Day were never dropped off in what state election officials called an "oversight."
"It's a bit concerning," said Alex Psilakis, a policy manager with MassVOTE, a non-partisan group that has been monitoring the primary. "The state implemented a whole new vote-by-mail system, so there are some kinks that need worked out. I don't think there's any ill will or ill intention in missing these ballots, I think folks were just a little overwhelmed with everything going on."
Seven Democratic candidates sought to replace Kennedy, who opted not to seek reelection and instead challenge Sen. Ed Markey in the U.S. Senate primary. In addition to Auchincloss and Mermell, the group of candidates included Newton City Councilor Becky Grossman, City Year co-founder Alan Khazei, epidemiologist Natalia Linos, former Wall Street regulator Isshane Lecky and Ben Sigel, who worked for the Democratic National Campaign Committee.
Markey defeated Kennedy, setting the stage for another possible six-year term and marking the first time a Kennedy has lost a race for Congress in Massachusetts.
Neither Auchincloss, a Newton City Councilor, nor Mermell, a progressive former business group leader, spoke Tuesday night. Instead, they both issued statements urging that all the votes be counted.
Republican Julie Hall, a veteran, defeated David Rosa on the GOP side of the ballot.
State House News Service contributed to this report.
More Coverage on 4th Congressional District in Massachusetts
The race for Massachusetts' Fourth Congressional District was packed as Democrats vied to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Joe Kennedy III