Despite demographic shifts that threatened to chip away at his African American support base, Rep.
With absentee and affidavit votes yet to be counted, however, Espaillat refused to concede, setting the stage for a drawn-out finish similar to the one that followed the rivals' 2012 race for New York's 13th Congressional District.
The Associated Press called the election for Rangel after a cliffhanger finish late Tuesday. Rangel, 84, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1970 and who was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has said this will be his last term.
In a bizarre end to election day, Rangel thanked supporters at a raucous party that amounted to a victory celebration, even though results were still trickling in. Espaillat, meanwhile, said the race was "too close to call."
By Wednesday, with 100% of precincts reporting, Rangel had set aside all caution. "Yes, I won the election," he said, smiling broadly, as he emerged onto the streets of his Harlem stronghold.
According to results from the Board of Elections, Rangel had 47.4% of the vote, and Espaillat had 43.6%. There is no Republican candidate, guaranteeing the primary winner the House seat.
Espaillat wasn't budging.
"We want to see the full count of the votes," he said. Espaillat similarly refused to concede to Rangel in the 2012 primary.
Then, as now, the initial results showed Rangel defeating Espaillat, but in 2012, Rangel's lead narrowed as votes continued to come in. Delays in counting held up the final results for several days, and Espaillat finally conceded nearly two weeks after the election. Rangel beat him by 1,086 votes, or 43.9% to 41.3%.
This time, Rangel appeared to have widened his lead. More than 1,800 votes separated the candidates, meaning Espaillat would have to win nearly all the absentee and affidavit votes. Those won't be counted until next week.
Espaillat, 59, had hoped to become the first Dominican-born member of the House of Representatives, and the congressional district's heavily Latino demographics seemed to be in his favor. But Rangel commands fierce loyalty among African Americans in Harlem, and he strongly emphasized his experience, which he said was crucial to breaking the congressional gridlock in Washington.
"That's what this election is all about," he said late Tuesday. "Who can walk into the national arena with the most friends, the most supporters?"
If Rangel was bothered by Espaillat's refusal to concede, he didn't show it Wednesday and appeared to revel in the idea of another extended finish to his final race.
"He should exercise every right he has," Rangel said of Espaillat.