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Margin of 35 votes separates GOP hopefuls against Van Hollen

Ben Pershing

Three days after Maryland primary voters went to the polls, the winner of the Republican race to face Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) in the 8th congressional district remains unclear.

As of Wednesday afternoon, businessman Michael Philips led lawyer Bruce Stern by 138 votes, including ballots cast in early voting and on election day. Montgomery County election officials have since counted 776 absentee ballots, and Philips' lead has been narrowed to just 35 votes.

And there's still more counting to do. According to Marjorie Roher, the public information officer for the Montgomery County Board of Elections, there are 675 outstanding absentee ballots that were mailed to 8th district Republican voters but have not been returned. There is no way to know how many of those will be sent in, but the board will keep accepting them up until 10 a.m. next Wednesday, Sept. 22. There are also 1,751 provisional ballots left to be counted, though that includes ballots from all over Montgomery County -- the 8th district only covers part of the county -- and from all different parties, not just Republicans.

So it's not clear exactly how many ballots will be counted next Wednesday, the final day of tallying (barring a recount). What is clear is that Stern has no intention of throwing in the towel yet.

"I believe the partial absentee ballot count shows that my campaign's efforts to target voters who requested absentee ballots was very successful," Stern said in an email Friday. "I am hopeful that as more absentee ballots are counted, I will continue to whittle away at Philips' lead and then surpass him in the vote count. Regardless, this will be an extraordinarily close election that may not be decided until the final vote is counted on Wednesday."

Van Hollen is expected to win with ease against either man, given the heavy Democratic tilt of the district and his massive fundraising advantage.

By Ben Pershing  |  September 17, 2010; 3:50 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections , Ben Pershing , Montgomery County  
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