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Republican Brian Fitzpatrick wins Pa.’s First Congressional District, defies Dem tide

He survived a rough election cycle for Republicans.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, left, celebrates being re-elected with his brother, former congressman Mike Fitzpatrick.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, left, celebrates being re-elected with his brother, former congressman Mike Fitzpatrick.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick won reelection to the U.S. House Tuesday, surviving an election cycle that many predicted would be devastating to suburban Republicans.

His Democratic challenger, multimillionaire philanthropist Scott Wallace, conceded in the race for Bucks County's First District around 11:30 p.m.

It was one of the most expensive, competitive, and closely watched campaigns in the country.

The crowd in the Bucks County GOP headquarters erupted at the news of Fitzpatrick's victory, chanting "Brian! Brian!" as he took the stage shortly after major networks called the race for him.

"It is a big victory for us tonight," Fitzpatrick said in a short speech thanking his supporters. "These are tough, tough fights. These elections in these districts are tough."

Pat Poprik, leader of the Bucks County Republican Party, said "we've been hearing these horror stories" across southeastern Pennsylvania, "but I got to tell you, Bucks County, we did great."

Wallace made his campaign all about President Trump, hammering Fitzpatrick for voting with him 84 percent of the time, according to the data-journalism website FiveThirtyEight. Fitzpatrick distanced himself from the president, campaigning as a self-described centrist in a swing district that both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey carried in 2016.

Wallace highlighted Fitzpatrick's vote for the GOP's tax cuts in particular, arguing they "exploded our debt by $2 trillion" and benefited the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

Yet Republican Charlie Dent, a former Lehigh Valley congressman who resigned this year, said Fitzpatrick's victory meant he "developed his own identity and brand … and that's why he would prevail in spite of this atrocious political environment."

Republicans painted Wallace as an extremist with ties to convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.

"I want to wish Mr. Fitzpatrick all the best," Wallace said at his election-watch party in Langhorne. He called the campaign an adventure and said he ran to make his grandfather proud. Henry A. Wallace, a noted progressive of the Depression era, was one of Franklin D. Roosevelt's vice presidents.

Wallace said he hopes that the new Democratic majority in Congress will be able to pass legislation to help working people, hold Trump accountable, and "find out what that caravan is up to." The last was a joke about the president's focus in the final weeks of the campaign on a caravan of migrants moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border.

Fitzpatrick questioned Trump's closing message to voters, separating himself from the caravan talk: "I think it should be focused on the economy," he said. "People are happy with the economic status of the country right now."

The First District campaign drew attention for its particularly negative and often misleading advertisements. Last month, TV stations pulled an anti-Wallace spot from the airwaves that falsely claimed the Democrat had helped fund Abu-Jamal's legal defense. A pro-Wallace ad that said Fizpatrick voted against protecting people with preexisting conditions was given "four Pinocchios" by the Washington Post.

Along with Bucks County, the First District includes a portion of Montgomery County.

At least $28 million was spent on the race, including a minimum of $8 million by Wallace himself. That eclipsed the amount of cash spent in Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race.