For Mike Fitzpatrick, Bucks County's once and future congressman, another second chance began Tuesday night.

Fitzpatrick, 47, a Republican who beat cancer two years ago, scored a decisive payback victory over U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, the Democrat who narrowly unseated him in 2006 for the Eighth District seat.

With almost all polling places reporting, Fitzpatrick held a lead of about 16,000 votes over Murphy, a two-term incumbent, in the district comprising all of Bucks County and slivers of Philadelphia and Montgomery County.

Fitzpatrick declared victory before 10:30 p.m. in front of a packed and loudly cheering crowd at Republican headquarters in Doylestown.

"It really is sweet," he said later. "I wouldn't have thought, four years ago, that I would be running for public office again. I didn't think four years ago that I would battle cancer and come back, or that the unemployment rate and the national debt would have doubled. I've been changed by my experiences. I think I can be a better representative for the people because of what I've experienced."

Murphy conceded just before 11:30 at the Italian Mutual Aid-Fifth Ward Association in Bristol. Flanked by his wife Jenny and two young children, Murphy thanked his "dedicated teammates" for helping him to four years in office.

"You all put your hopes and your hearts in my hands, and for that I will forever be more grateful than you will ever realize," he said. "Tonight we may have lost a battle, but our fight for our country's future must go on."

Before heading out, he led the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday" to his son, Jack, who turned 1 Tuesday.

Fitzpatrick's margin of victory should settle a controversy over absentee ballots that marred the closing days of the nationally watched, bare-knuckle campaign.

Amid charges of voter fraud by both sides, more than 8,500 absentee ballots were impounded last week by the Bucks County Board of Elections, and will not be counted until Wednesday. Because Fitzpatrick's margin exceeded that, the controversy should not affect the outcome of his race but could affect some state legislative races.

Fitzpatrick's win also grounded the meteoric national political career of Murphy, 37. As an unknown Iraq war veteran, he squeaked past Fitzpatrick in 2006, quickly hitched his political star to then-Rep. Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and was considered a rising Democratic star.

Murphy had taken the 2006 contest by just 1,518 votes, less than 1 percent. Fitzpatrick's comeback had no such drama.

In 2006, for example, Sellersville Borough's District 1 went for Fitzpatrick by a single vote. This time, his margin there was 88 votes out of 530 cast.

Just as the midterm election was seen nationally as a referendum on President Obama's policies, so was the Murphy-Fitzpatrick rematch touted by many national observers as Exhibit A.

Each candidate relentlessly cast the other as the wrongheaded devotee of an unpopular administration. A casual listener might have concluded from their rhetoric that Fitzpatrick was running with former President George W. Bush, and that Murphy was on a ticket with Obama or Pelosi.

In 2006, Murphy succeeded in turning public dismay with Bush over the Iraq war into a surprise victory over Fitzpatrick, a freshman legislator who served 10 years as a popular Bucks County commissioner.

This year, Murphy tried the Bush tar again, harping constantly that Fitzpatrick had backed the "failed Bush economic policies" that "drove the economy into a ditch."

Murphy portrayed himself as the cleanup crew who held his nose and voted for bailout and stimulus measures that kept a deep recession from becoming a depression.

But Fitzpatrick was having none of that. He expressed bewilderment that his two years in office could have so wrecked the economy. He countered by noting that Murphy served twice as long in Congress, and that unemployment had doubled and the deficit had soared on that watch.

Fitzpatrick called for a permanent extension of sweeping tax cuts enacted under Bush - even for the richest Americans, which Murphy deemed too expensive.