By Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Congressman Charles Rangel of New York declared victory in his Democratic primary election on Tuesday, after facing one of the most serious challenges of a four-decade career as he tried to win a 23rd term in Congress in November.
Rangel's Democratic challenger, state Senator Adriano Espaillat, has not conceded defeat, and the New York Times and other news outlets said the race was too close to call.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Rangel was leading 47 percent to 44 percent, according to NY1, a local television station, which called Rangel the winner.
Rangel, 84, is among the longest-serving and best-known black lawmakers. Espaillat hopes to become the first Dominican-American elected to Congress.
In this liberal bastion of New York City, where blacks and Latinos form the majority, the winner of the Democratic primary is all but guaranteed to win the mid-term general election in November.
The race was a rematch between Rangel and Espaillat. Two years ago, Espaillat, 59, came within 1,000 votes of ousting Rangel after the district boundaries were redrawn.
The two men had few policy disagreements, but sparred over whether it was time for Rangel, who has indicated this will be his last election, to yield to the next generation of politicians.
"Who can walk into the national arena with the most friends, the most supporters, who's fought the good battles?" Rangel told supporters.
Rangel, who entered Congress in 1971, was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and chaired the powerful House Ways and Means committee.
But his political brand was dealt a serious blow in 2010, when he was censured by the House after failing to pay taxes on rent he earned from a property in the Dominican Republic and misusing his office to secure fund-raising.
A Siena College poll released last week found voters divided along racial lines: Rangel held a 70-point advantage among blacks; Espaillat, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, held a 24-point advantage among Latinos.
Rangel boasted a long list of endorsements going into the poll, including former President Bill Clinton, New York's two senators and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Newspapers were split. The New York Times threw its support behind Espaillat, saying Rangel needed to "yield to the next generation." The New York Daily News endorsed Rangel as a "master legislator" deserving of a "last hurrah."
(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Eric Beech and Ron Popeski, Larry King)