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Democrat Chrissy Houlahan wins Pa.’s Sixth Congressional District

Democrat Chrissy Houlahan, a political newcomer and third-generation military veteran, won the open seat for the newly redrawn congressional district that includes Chester County and part of Berks County.

Democrat Chrissy Houlahan celebrates her victory in Pa.'s Sixth Congressional race on Tuesday in Phoenixville.
Democrat Chrissy Houlahan celebrates her victory in Pa.'s Sixth Congressional race on Tuesday in Phoenixville.Read moreBRADLEY C BOWER

Democrat Chrissy Houlahan, a first-time candidate and third-generation military veteran, won the open seat Tuesday for the newly redrawn Sixth Congressional District, which includes Chester County and parts of Berks County.

The crowd at her election night watch party erupted in cheers and clapping when CNN projected Houlahan the winner shortly after 10 p.m. They chanted "Chrissy!" "Chrissy!" "Chrissy!"

Houlahan defeated Greg McCauley, another political novice and a tax attorney, to head to Washington. With 75 percent of the vote counted, she led McCauley by a 3 to 2 margin.

"Our politics and our government have been turned upside down. And together I hope we're going to turn our country right side up again," Houlahan, 51, told supporters.

"This is not the end of our journey. We have only just begun this fight. And we have a lot of work to do now."

The redrawing of the state's congressional districts early this year gave Houlahan an advantage since the swing district's constituency changed from Republican-leaning to narrowly Democratic. While Republicans in Chester County lead in registered voters, the redrawn district includes Reading and other parts of Berks County that have higher ratios of Democrats to Republicans.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court forced lawmakers to redraw the district map, because the justices said lawmakers had unconstitutionally gerrymandered the old map, drawing it to benefit certain political candidates.

Republican Rep. Ryan Costello, the current holder of the seat and former chair of the Chester County Board of Commissioners, announced in March he would not seek re-election for the newly drawn district.

More than 200 people gathered at Houlahan's election night watch party at a wedding venue in Phoenixville, cheering each time CNN projected a Democratic winner and groaning when the network projected a Republican winner, no matter the state.

Houlahan out fund-raised McCauley by millions of dollars, according to last month's campaign finance filings. She raised $3.7 million, compared to McCauley's $164,000, plus the $75,000 he lent his campaign.

Houlahan was a captain in the Air Force, a former business executive, and a former director of a nonprofit that focused on literacy. She moved to Chester County 25 years ago and worked as an executive at the Paoli-based AND1.

A former chemistry teacher at Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia, Houlahan knocked on doors for Hillary Clinton and decided to run after President Trump was elected. She said both her daughter, who is openly gay, and father, a Holocaust survivor, were in tears over the outcome of the 2016 presidential race.

During the congressional campaign, Houlahan and Republican opponent McCauley focused on mainstream national issues, such as gun control, immigration, health care, climate change, and taxes.

McCauley is a former owner of nine Wendy's franchises and a Delaware County native who moved to Chester County more than three decades ago. He said he decided to run because of his family, saying, "We need to restore the American Dream for our children."

A few hours before the polls closed, McCauley praised high voter turnout. About two-thirds of Chester County's registered voters cast ballots.

"It is a good referendum no matter who wins or loses," McCauley said. "We know the majority of people came out and voted, and that's a good thing."

Houlahan, too, praised the campaign she witnessed.

"This is something I've never seen in my community," she told her supporters. "I have never seen the kind of energy we have right now in our community. Thanks to you, we are making history tonight."​