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Contender Murphy Bests Incumbent Fitzpatrick

November 9, 2006
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Democrat Patrick Murphy (left) accepts his new job, as wife Jennifer looks on.

After a campaign hinged on his experience as a veteran of the Iraq war -- and his desire to change the American course of action -- Democrat Patrick Murphy appeared to have eked out a razor-thin decision to unseat Republican incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick in the 8th Congressional District.

Murphy won by 1,521 votes in an election where almost 250,000 votes were cast, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State as of 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Fitzpatrick had yet to concede.

At around 1:30 a.m., Murphy finally took to the stage at the Sheraton Bucks County Hotel in Langhorne, frequently referring to himself as the congressman-elect.

"We knew it was going to be close, and it was. But the people of the 8th Congressional District have spoken, and they want change," he said in his acceptance speech, according to his campaign. "As your congressman-elect, I'm going to change the direction of our country."

Speaking shortly before 1 a.m. at his Doylestown headquarters, Fitzpatrick told his supporters that the race was too close to call.

"The numbers and the election results aside -- and I'd say this one way or the other -- I consider myself the luckiest man in Pennsylvania," said Fitzpatrick, who thanked his family and supporters while speaking in front of a wall adorned with pictures of former Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. "We will collect the numbers during the course of the evening, and we'll be in touch with you tomorrow."

Murphy gained 62.3 percent of the vote in a Montgomery County victory, and earned 54.6 percent en route to winning the district's slice of Northeast Philadelphia. Bucks County, which has the majority of the district's voters, went 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent for Fitzpatrick.

At the Murphy party, supporters screamed in celebration when they saw a check mark next to Bob Casey's name, denoting a victory over Rick Santorum for the U.S. Senate. First huddled in front of small televisions -- then later gathered around a large projection screen -- the Murphy camp cheered frequently as the election ticker on the bottom of the screen showed Democratic victories across the nation.

Earlier in the night, there was a problem getting cable television in the large party room, so many supporters took in an episode of "Dancing With the Stars" while snacking on hoagies and watching Murphy's young nieces run around in red dresses.

The mood at Fitzpatrick's party was noticeably more somber. Held in a tightly packed converted house that he uses as his campaign headquarters in Doylestown, Fitzpatrick supporters frequently grumbled to each other about the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives. As supporters frantically checked and rechecked Web sites for updates on the race for the 8th, they noticed that Fitzpatrick was closing the gap as time wore on.

During the campaign, Murphy touted a change of course in Iraq, where he served as a captain in the U.S. Army. Fitzpatrick relied on his 10 years as a Bucks County Commissioner to get him passed a novice politician.

Like many elections, the race for the 8th Congressional District brought about mudslinging television attack ads, with Fitzpatrick claiming that Murphy lied about his employment as a federal prosecutor in New York. Murphy ran ads that accused his opponent of siding almost blindly with president Bush.

Murphy may have made up some ground in his Bucks blitz last week, during which he visited 31 municipalities in 31 hours. What was seen months ago as a race that Fitzpatrick would win handily developed into an arduous race as Election Day approached.

"Thank you for your support. Thank you for your trust," said congressman-elect Murphy to his constituents. "And I promise you one thing: I will make you proud."

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