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WASHINGTON — Veteran Rep. Charles Rangel was declared the winner of his nail-biter Democratic primary in New York, according to the Associated Press.

Rangel, a 22-term congressman, was leading Adriano Espaillat by about 1,800 votes on Wednesday with 99% of the vote counted, according to unofficial returns posted by the New York City Board of Elections.

Absentee ballots will be accepted through next Tuesday, and then an unofficial canvass will begin the next day. AP reporter Stephen Ohlemacher posted on Twitter that there are "too few absentee or provisional ballots remaining for Espaillat to catch up."

Rangel was confident that he won when he addressed his supporters in Harlem on Tuesday night. "This was your victory," he said. "This is your congressman. And you can rest assured all I will be doing is thinking about you and bringing resources back home."

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Espaillat, a state senator who came within about 1,100 votes of unseating Rangel in 2012, told his supporters that the race was still too close to call. Legal wrangling and vote counting dragged on for two weeks in 2012 before Rangel was declared the winner.

"As we learned in 2012, every single vote needs to be counted in this race," Espaillat said in a statement released Wednesday by his campaign. "Given the thousands of votes outstanding, the people of Upper Manhattan and The Bronx deserve a full accounting of every vote to achieve a complete and accurate tally in this race."

Rangel, first elected in 1970, was once one of the most powerful members of Congress. He stepped down as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in 2010 amid an investigation into ethics violations, which led to his censure by House colleagues. Rangel insisted the charges against him were politically motivated and he tried unsuccessfully to overturn the censure in court.

Espaillat argued that it was time for change in the district, which was once dominated by blacks but now is majority Hispanic. If elected, Espaillat would be the first member of Congress born in the Dominican Republic. Rangel was criticized for saying that Espaillat had only his Dominican heritage to run on.

Contributing: Associated Press

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