Patrick Murphy got married in June, got elected to Congress in November, and had a baby girl after Thanksgiving.

Quite a year. Quite a whirlwind.

But Murphy can't afford to relax. Little more than 10 weeks after going to Washington, the Bucks County Democrat is running hard for reelection.

"It's hard on the family, for my wife, Jenni, and my 3-month-old, Maggie," he said of his schedule, which takes him to Washington four or five days a week and then to events in his district throughout most of the weekend. "I see them early in the morning and late at night."

But that's political life in the hotly contested, pivotally crucial Philadelphia suburbs these days. The campaign never stops - not for Murphy and not for two other U.S. House members who won nationally watched elections in November: Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican Jim Gerlach.

If you didn't look at a calendar, you'd never know it was a year and eight months until the next congressional election.

On Friday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) was in the area to attend public events with both Murphy and Sestak - and then, at private parties, to help them begin to raise the $3 million each may need for reelection in the expensive Philadelphia market for TV ads.

Also last week, a liberal group based on K Street in Washington started airing a radio ad attacking Gerlach for a vote he cast in the House against a labor bill backed by the AFL-CIO.

Washington politics in recent years has become more partisan. That has led to the nationalizing of close House contests.

Larry Sabato, who runs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said all three suburban incumbents face another hard fight that won't end until Nov. 8 of next year.

"There's no such thing as a governing period now," he said. "It's one campaign into the next. It's really two full-time jobs - being a congressman and being a candidate.

"It's a seven-day-a-week, 52-week-a-year job" for embattled incumbents, he said. "It's exhausting. This is truly a young man's game."

Murphy, 33, was a captain with the 82d Airborne Division in Iraq just three years ago. But even he admits the non-stop campaign can be tiring.

"I'm still a newlywed, with a new family, a new job, and there's definitely a challenge in trying to find a balance," he said. "My heart is in the right place. I feel we're trying to make our country a better place."

"I knew what I was getting into," he hastened to add.

Murphy - as do Sestak, 55, of Delaware County, and Gerlach, 52, of Chester County - occupies a swing district. It can roll either Republican or Democratic.

Murphy's race, in which he ousted one-term Republican Mike Fitzpatrick by 0.6 percent of the vote, was among the half-dozen tightest in the country.

Gerlach, who beat Democrat Lois Murphy by 1.4 percent, was among a bare handful of northeastern Republicans in swing districts who survived the national Democratic onslaught.

Sestak, a former three-star admiral, defeated 10-term Republican Curt Weldon by 13 percentage points. But the race was close until the end, when Weldon's support collapsed after FBI raids on the home and office of his daughter Karen in a probe of Weldon's official conduct. No charges have been filed.

Most of the nation's 435 House members don't have tight races. Most are in districts that are either securely Republican or securely Democrat.

Democrats Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady, both based in solidly Democratic Philadelphia, generally don't have to fret. Nor does Republican Joe Pitts, sitting safely in GOP areas of Lancaster and Chester Counties. Even Democrat Allyson Schwartz, despite having much of her district in the suburbs, has a secure urban base.

Gone are the days when candidates in hot races were left on their own. Both national parties weigh in, as do independent groups such as Americans United for Change, which launched the anti-Gerlach radio ad.

Eight days after Congress was sworn in Jan. 4, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was in full war cry.

In a Jan. 12 memo, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) said the committee was "aggressively on offense." He mentioned Gerlach as a target.

The committee lists Murphy as one of 30 endangered House Democrats. He can expect help in fund-raising, strategy and campaign organization.

Van Hollen indicated that in exchange for this support the party expects selected candidates to hold 100 house parties, recruit 1,000 volunteers and build a list of 30,000 voter e-mail addresses.

They're also expected to put between $650,000 and $1 million in the bank by June 30.

Murphy is going full steam. He has answered 7,000 letters from Eighth District constituents. He starts Mondays by shaking hands at 6 a.m. with SEPTA riders. In the House, he has introduced a bill to withdraw troops from Iraq.

His likely challenger isn't wasting time, either.

Fitzpatrick, who lost by 1,518 votes out of almost 250,000, appears to want a rematch.

On March 11, Fitzpatrick hosted a fund-raising event at the Northampton County Club. He said that "400 friends" attended but that the money would be used for "other candidates" in this year's local elections.

Republican leaders are recruiting a Seventh District candidate to run against Sestak, and Democrats are looking at a possible foe for Gerlach in the Sixth District. But no one has yet clearly been identified.

As a former vice admiral, Sestak naturally sees politics in military terms.

After 31 years in the Navy, he returned to the area and won a seat no Democrat had held since 1986.

That was the invasion phase. Now he must occupy and hold the ground he has gained.

"Everybody, understandably, will look at this as my two most vulnerable years," he said.

Weldon gave Sestak little credit for his long Navy service and suggested that, even though Sestak had grown up in Delaware County, he was some sort of carpetbagger.

He said Sestak didn't even know the names of every town in the district, a charge that Sestak inadvertently gave some credence to when he bought a house with a Newtown Square address but didn't realize it was actually in Edgmont Township. He laughs about it now. He said he's been working 61/2 days a week since the election to cement a support base.

"I know fund-raising is important," he said last week after a St. Patrick's Day parade in Conshohocken, "but more important is outreach and getting people to know me."

His 8 a.m.-to-10 p.m. schedule included two parades, a lunchtime speech, a gathering at the Media NAACP, visits to two fire companies, a radio interview, a country-western dance in Media and several one-on-one meetings.

"Voters are like sailors," he said. "They want you to look them in the eye, to grasp their concerns, to know you care."

For Gerlach, this is Round 4 in a never-ending battle since he first ran in 2002.

"It takes a toll," he said.

But there are compensations, he said.

"You have the opportunity to represent 650,000 people on very important issues, and that's satisfying. That's what offsets the drudgery and the fund-raising."

Gerlach's House race, in which $14 million was spent, was the most expensive in the country last year. He and Lois Murphy spent more than $7 million, and the national parties added about $7 million.

"It just shows how competitive the [district] is - and how much both sides want it."