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DeMaio Concedes 52nd Congressional District Race

Photo by Angela Carone

Carl DeMaio and his partner Johnathan Hale surrounded by DeMaio's supporters on election night at the U.S. Grant in downtown San Diego, Nov. 4, 2014.

Republican Carl DeMaio on Sunday conceded defeat to incumbent Scott Peters in one of the nation's most hotly contested congressional races to represent a large part of San Diego, ending a bitter campaign that was rocked by claims that he sexually harassed two former staffers.

As of 5:30 p.m. Monday, Peters was up by 5,430 votes, according to the county registrar of voters.

DeMaio, who is openly gay, said he will work within his party to make it more inclusive, echoing a theme of his campaign. He was not more specific about his plans but said the campaign was "incredibly painful" and left him wary about electoral politics.

"It's clear that we are falling short in the vote counts, and I wish Mr. Peters the best because I care so much about the interests of San Diego," he told The Associated Press. "I'm incredibly proud of the inclusive and diverse campaign coalition that we forged and I remain committed to challenging the Republican Party to become more inclusive and more positive in its efforts to build a governing majority."

Peters, a moderate Democrat, leads with 51.3 percent of the vote compared DeMaio's 48.7 percent, with nearly all votes counted. The Associated Press called the race for Peters, 56, on Friday.

DeMaio's campaign was upended in its final weeks when Todd Bosnich, former policy director, said he was harassed by his former boss and offered $50,000 to stay quiet. DeMaio vigorously denied the allegations and called them a "false smear."

Dave McCulloch, a spokesman, said the controversy created "massive attrition and erosion" among DeMaio's Republican base — including older, evangelical Christian voters — and created "an ick factor." The allegations were less of an issue with independent voters, he said.

A week ago, KPBS reported that another former DeMaio campaign staffer, Navy veteran Justin Harper, said DeMaio exposed himself to the worker in the men's restroom at the campaign's headquarters. Harper quit without telling anyone about the incident and received a letter of recommendation from DeMaio.

McCulloch said at the time that "KPBS is reckless in reporting this outrageous lie," and said "reporters with journalistic integrity have dismissed these false smears."

DeMaio, 40, sharply criticized Peters over the extent to which his campaign communicated with Bosnich, the first accuser, as disclosed in search warrant affidavits that were unsealed Friday. U-T San Diego and KNSD-TV reported on the disclosures.

MaryAnne Pintar, Peters' campaign manager, informed police of the allegations against DeMaio, U-T San Diego reported, a role that was never acknowledged during the campaign. The documents reveal that Pintar met with Bosnich at a coffee shop, took delivery of DeMaio campaign materials and kept possession of them for some time — counter to Peters' statement during a televised debate that they were handed over to police immediately.

"Given the evidence that is emerging and is likely to emerge in coming weeks and days, Mr. Peters has significant, serious questions that he must answer," DeMaio said.

Peters told KPBS on Sunday that he "messed up the timeline" during the debate when he said the campaign material was turned over to police immediately.

"I wasn't expecting the question at the time it came," Peters told KPBS. "What I'd say is that we got information from Mr. Bosnich on a Thursday night, and by Saturday we were on the phone calling the police chief saying there are two crimes out there that are potentially related to this. From then, we cooperated entirely. When we got additional material, it did sit in an envelope for a little while before the police came to pick it up, but it was our intention to turn it over as quickly as possible and that's what we did."

Pintar told U-T San Diego on Saturday that her involvement with Bosnich was appropriate.

The material, which DeMaio's campaign said was stolen in a burglary of his office that left computer screens smashed and phone lines cut, was highly sensitive, McCulloch said. It included schedules, about 50 mailers, and when and how the campaign planned to go negative on Peters.

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said a little more than two weeks before the election that there was insufficient evidence to file criminal charges against DeMaio for harassment or Bosnich for the burglary, but controversy surrounding DeMaio fueled news coverage. As DeMaio sought to bring attention to issues ranging from veterans benefits to border security, he was repeatedly confronted with the allegations.

DeMaio, who is in a committed relationship with publisher Johnathan Hale, said the allegations "were incredibly painful to me and my family."

"And given that, all, including myself, must be wary of the state of journalism today and where electoral politics are heading," he said.

California's 52nd Congressional District spans much of San Diego's coast and includes the suburbs of Poway and Coronado.

KPBS contributed to this report.

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