By PAUL J. SPETRINI
NORTH KINGSTOWN—Moments after the results came in from the fifth and final voting precinct in District 32 Tuesday night, State Representative Larry Ehrhardt was asked how he felt about the 27-vote margin that appeared to decide his Republican primary race in favor of his opponent, political newcomer Sharon Gamba.
Because the race was so tight and the margin of victory so small, Ehrhardt felt it was too soon to make a statement touting victory or conceding defeat and wanted to wait, instead, on the mail-in ballots that had yet to be counted.
It’s a good thing he did because, in a matter of minutes, those ballots changed the entire outcome of the race.
At least for now.
With 63 of the 83 mail-in ballots cast in his favor, Ehrhardt overcame Gamba’s totals and appears to be the victor in one of the tightest primary races in recent memory.
In all, the incumbent Ehrhardt earned 50.7 percent of all votes cast in his race, defeating Gamba by a razor-thin margin of 591-575 but, according to representatives with the state’s Board of Elections, Gamba officially asked for a recount yesterday afternoon to confirm the numbers.
It was a move Ehrhardt expected given how tight the race was but one he doesn’t think will alter the final results.
“I certainly understand that,” Ehrhardt said of Gamba’s request. “If I were in the same position, I would do so too but, based on my experience with recounts in the past, I would not expect any significant change.”
Calls to Gamba were not returned as of yesterday afternoon.
The recount request comes after a wild Election Day in which the District 32 race swung back and forth for each candidate as results trickled in.
Initially following the closing of polls, Ehrhardt led 179-158. Midway through the results, he trailed 249-216. Moments later, the gap was closed to a mere three votes, with Gamba leading 350-347 and by the time the final precinct came in, Gamba led 555-528.
Gamba and Ehrhardt were separated by less than 50 votes in all but one precinct with the former carrying Slocum Grange Hall Precinct 2305 (95-37) and North Kingstown Senior High School Precinct 2306 (92-43) and the latter winning at Cold Spring Community Center Princinct 2307 (208-162), Hamilton Elementary School Precinct 2308 (156-119) and Wickford Middle School Precinct 2309 (147-107) .
Despite the close results, Ehrhardt says he never worried he would earn a chance to take on Democratic challenger Bob Craven in November with a potential sixth term at the State House on the line.
“I never reached the nervous point,” Ehrhardt said. “I’m kind of experienced at this. This is my sixth election campaign so there’s a pattern to it. I knew that I was running a good campaign, I knew that I had dotted all the I’s and crossed the T’s.”
That’s not to say there weren’t moments of concern with the way Tuesday played out.
“Life is full of doubts,” Ehrhardt said. “It was close. It was close but at that point you’re sort of in a state that what will be, will be. You’re satisfied that you’ve given it your best and you’ll accept whatever the decision is.”
The Republican race is District 32 was one of only a few contested battles on Primary Day and certainly the closest but not the only one worth watching as the results came in.
At the statewide level, Representative James R. Langevin garnered 74.1 percent of the vote and easily defeated Democratic challenger John O. Matson, 21,782-7,620.
Langevin easily won both Exeter and North Kingstown, outpacing Matson 107-41 in the former and 659-208 in the latter.
“I’m grateful to have received the Democratic nomination and want to especially thank all of the volunteers and supporters who once again have been the foundation of my campaign,” Langevin said in a statement released Tuesday night.
Langevin will take on Republican challenger Michael G. Riley, who earned a total of 5,246 votes, or 65.6 percent of the total votes cast, to easily win his primary battle against contenders Kara Russo (1,484), Michael Gardiner (819) and Donald Robbio (453).
Riley—who has been endorsed by Cranston mayor Allen Fung and Warwick mayor Scott Avedisian—picked up easily victories in Exeter, where he won 137 of 185 total votes, and North Kingstown, where he garnered 946 of a possible 1,362 votes.
The only other contested races were both at the local level and in Exeter.
Exeter-West Greenwich School Committee member Paul McFadden failed in his bid to upend incumbent and State Senator Francis Maher, gathering just 22.6 percent of the total vote in the District 34 race and losing 473-138.
In District 39, meanwhile, Clay Johnson defeated challenger Michael Picillo 187-154 to earn the right to take on Democratic incumbent Larry Valencia in November’s general election.
For full results from Tuesday’s primaries, visit http://www.elections.ri.gov/ .