WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Congressman Mike McIntyre returned to his roots Tuesday night, heading home to Lumberton to watch election returns with his family in what would be his hardest fought re-election campaign yet.
McIntyre ended up beating Republican challenger Ilario Pantano with 54% of the vote -- the closest margin of victory for McIntyre since his first race in 1996.
McIntyre entered the ballroom at the Holiday Inn shortly before 10:30 pm Tuesday with the knowledge that he was returning to Washington D.C. for an eighth term.
"We just want to stand up and fight for the people here at home. It's great. The campaign is over. It's time to unite and work together. That's what it's about," Congressman Mike McIntyre said.
Pantano conceded the race to his supporters at the Blockade Runner in Wrightsville Beach shortly before 10 pm Tuesday. Pantano said the loss was still a victory as his strong challenge forced the Democratic Party and outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to spend thousands of dollars to defend McIntyre in North Carolina's 7th District.
"Tonight we've had a celebration. We did exactly what we needed to do. We needed to restore a conservative majority in the Congress and we achieved that," Ilario Pantano said of the Republican Party's return of power to the House of Representatives.
Pantano, running in his first political race, said he was uncertain at this point what the future holds.
"We're going to be going to Disney World and sorting all that out. A lot of prayerful consideration," Pantano said.
Pantano scored well in Republican-heavy Brunswick County, but lost the rural areas of the 7th District to McIntyre. The incumbent Congressman had called this the toughest campaign in his career and he relished in the celebration in front of family and friends.
"We went non-stop so we can have a moment like this and we're grateful," McIntyre said.
McIntyre, a self-proclaimed Blue Dog Democrat for his conservative views, says he'll go about uniting the region and continue to represent the area. But, Pantano, who forced McIntyre to really tout his conservative views said he and other Republicans will be watching to make sure McIntyre addresses conservative values in the area.
"There are issues that still need to be addressed. We're hoping he's going to put up the kind of fight to make sure that the conservative voice of this district is heard. And we're going to hold him to account if he doesn't," Pantano said.
McIntyre and his family plan to spend a quiet day at home Wednesday, catching up on sleep.
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