One of the nation’s most closely-watched House races — a San Diego ballot fight marked by attack ads, sexual harassment allegations and a campaign headquarters break-in scandal — was still undecided early Wednesday.
In the race for the 52nd Congressional District seat, thousands of provisional and mail-in ballots must still be counted for Republican candidate Carl DeMaio or Democrat incumbent Rep. Scott Peters.
With 100 percent of local precincts reporting, DeMaio has a 752 vote lead over Peters, though the county registrar says about 180,000 mail and provisional ballots have yet to be counted.
The two candidates spent Election Day 2014 working for last minute votes, and they took time in the evening to address and thank supporters.
When the early results came in at about 8 p.m., Peters said he is happy to be where they stood.
"It could be a long night, but I think it will be a good one," he said. "So I want to thank you for your confidence in me. It means a lot to me."
DeMaio spoke to his staff and supporters just after 11 p.m., showing his appreciation for their work.
"I want to start out by thanking voters, and while we must wait a little while longer to find out exactly what the voters have decided, I feel very confident that in the end, we shall prevail," DeMaio said.
Despite high-profile mudslinging that came to typify this race, both candidates felt they ran strong campaigns.
“I feel really good,” said DeMaio. “I feel that we laid out a campaign based on my record of helping save San Diego from brink of bankruptcy of making government work here. We laid out positive ideas in Washington to fix the problems back there.”
“I don't know what else we can do," said Peters. "We'll see what the voters say, it's been an honor to serve, and I hope that they honor me with two more years, and if they do, I will work every day to bring the Congress that America deserves and we can be proud of again.”
The race is so close, final tallies may not be in by Tuesday night.
Controversy in the race began six days before June’s primary election, when DeMaio reported a break-in at his campaign headquarters. Computer screens were shattered, cords and cables were cut, water was poured over the electronics and DeMaio’s campaign strategy book disappeared, the candidate said.
In a taping of NBC 7’s “Politically Speaking” in October, Peters said he felt as if he’d initially been cast as the perpetrator of the break-in, though DeMaio later accused former staffer Todd Bosnich.
While the cameras were rolling, DeMaio then confronted Peters about the fate of that campaign playbook. Peters admitted “information” about his opponent’s strategy was forwarded to his staff, but he said he never looked through it and handed it over to police within 24 hours.
As for Bosnich, DeMaio alleged he was the break-in culprit at the same time Bosnich released the results of a polygraph test that he says supports his claims that the candidate sexually harassed him.
In a CNN report on Oct. 10, Bosnich said he was the victim of unwelcome touching and repeated sexual harassment by DeMaio while working for him on the congressional campaign and during his 2012 mayoral run. Bosnich described an alleged incident where he was called to DeMaio’s office and the candidate exposed himself.
DeMaio said his former employee had “manufactured a story” to cover for a plagiarism incident and that the allegations are completely false.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and the Chief of San Diego Police announced on Oct. 20 there is not enough evidence to support Bosnich’s claims and to press charges. At the same time, both agencies said there would be no charges filed in the headquarters break-in either.
On Sunday, protesters outside DeMaio's campaign headquarters demanded an apology for sexist emails they say he sent.
Their claim stems from an email DeMaio purportedly sent in January featuring a demeaning image of a Peters campaign aide. DeMaio has denied sending the email and told the UT San Diego that Bosnich fabricated it.
Peters addressed the email scandal Sunday, saying it was time for DeMaio to "come clean" on it.
"I wish that Mr. DeMaio would've taken the opportunity to say ‘I did it, was a weak moment’ or whatever he has to say — but come clean with people. Tell the truth apologize when it's necessary. I've never seen him apologize for anything," Peters said.
DeMaio, meanwhile, blamed Peters’ campaign for perpetuating the sexual harassment controversy.
"Scott Peters continues to use false personal smears against me rather than focusing on the issues that San Diegans care about. That's why I'm not going to join him in the mud. I'm not going to worry about the false personal smears he's throwing against me," he said.
The tension in the race was evident in a failed handshake moment just before the taping of the "Politically Speaking" episode, when DeMaio walked right by Peters’ hand outstretched for a handshake.
NBC 7 will keep you updated on the latest results from this important race. Visit our Decision 2014 Results page to track this and other races.
Editor's note: On Nov. 23, 2015, Todd Bosnich was sentenced for obstructing justice after he admitted he created a phony email to make it appear DeMaio or his associates were threatening him. He also admitted to lying to the FBI about the email.