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GOP here prevails in suburban 6th, 7th, 8th Congressional Districts, in step with national trend

By WILLIAM BENDER
Philadelphia Daily News

benderw@phillynews.com 215-854-5255

REPUBLICANS went surfing across the Philadelphia suburbs last night, riding the national GOP “wave” over Democrat-held congressional territory from Upper Darby to Bristol as Republicans reclaimed the U.S. House majority they lost in 2006.

In Delaware County’s 7th District, former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan handily defeated Democratic state Rep. Bryan Lentz, who appeared to have lost some momentum in the closing days of the race amid the disclosure that his supporters tried to split the conservative vote by placing a right-wing “birther” on the ballot.

In Bucks County’s 8th District, Republican Mike Fitzpatrick unseated Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, a bellwether race that was on the radar of every political analyst in the country.

And in the sprawling 6th District that stretches from the Main Line to Reading, Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach held off hard-charging Democrat Manan Trivedi, as most handicappers had predicted.

The GOP sweep of the three suburban swing districts came four years after Democrats took control of the House amid a president with sagging popular support and war in Iraq.

Republicans struck back with a vengeance this cycle with a simple message of lowering taxes, cutting spending and reducing the size of government – mixed with plenty of sentiment against President Obama.

It worked.

“The economic issues hit home with the people,” Fitzpatrick said from Bucks County GOP headquarters. “We need to put the federal government on a path toward a balanced budget and create an atmosphere where the private sector will be highly successful in creating jobs.”

7th District 

Both parties had been eyeing this seat since Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak decided to run for the Senate. Sestak, who lost yesterday, served only two terms in the House after unseating 10-term Republican U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon in 2006.

Lentz, 46, an Iraq War veteran from Swarthmore, and Meehan, 55, a former Delaware County district attorney from Upper Darby, clashed on the typical issues of stimulus spending, health-care reform and taxes. But in recent weeks, they began trading blows over their personal spending while in office – Lentz using a taxpayer-funded car and collecting per diem payments in Harrisburg and Meehan racking up a $4,500 tab while attending Pennsylvania Society dinners in New York City.

None of that mattered by 10 last night when Lentz conceded and Meehan greeted a packed ballroom at the Springfield Country Club, grinning ear-to-ear and shaking hands with supporters.

“People will be looking for solutions, looking for answers and we will fight to restore them,” Meehan said, referring to lost jobs.

Lentz’s supporters had attempted to cut into Meehan’s support by placing ultraconservative activist Jim Schneller on the ballot, but the scheme appeared to have backfired, costing Lentz newspaper endorsements and triggering national media coverage. Schneller got about 1 percent of the vote as Meehan defeated Lentz, 55 percent to 44 percent.

8th District

Fitzpatrick, the 8th District’s former congressman, reclaimed his old job yesterday, defeating Murphy in a closely watched rematch of the 2006 race, when Murphy, 36, of Bristol Township, unseated Fitzpatrick, 47, of Middletown Township, by only 1,500 votes.

Adding to the drama were claims of absentee-ballot fraud and manipulation. Murphy had accused Republicans of trying to “steal the election” by challenging hundreds of absentee ballots. Fitzpatrick leveled fraud allegations after the discovery that Democrats used a mailer with the fictitious “Pennsylvania Voter Assistance Office” to rout absentee-ballot applications to a post-office box controlled by Murphy’s campaign manager.

As a result, more than 8,000 absentee ballots had been sequestered at the county courthouse in Doylestown and won’t be counted until tomorrow. But they won’t be enough to change the outcome.

Fitzpatrick knocked off Murphy – a rising star in the Democratic Party who landed a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee this year – 54 percent to 46 percent.

6th District 

Early in the election cycle, national Democrats had seen Gerlach’s 6th District – a heavily gerrymandered district that includes sections of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lehigh counties – as ripe for the flipping. But that was when Gerlach, a political veteran who has withstood heavily-funded Democratic takeover attempts in past years, was running for governor. In January, Gerlach, 55, of Chester Springs, decided to seek a fifth term in the House, which drastically reduced the Democrats’ prospects.

Trivedi, 36, a doctor from Birdsboro who served as a battalion surgeon in Iraq, ran a high-energy campaign with solid fundraising, hoping to harness voters’ anti-incumbent mood by painting Gerlach as a Washington insider. It didn’t work. Gerlach won last night, 57 percent to 43 percent.

Elsewhere 

In Philadelphia’s 1st District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Brady ran unopposed, after Republican Pia Varma, the self-proclaimed “Liberty Belle,” was knocked off the primary ballot. Democratic U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah brushed aside Republican Rick Hellberg in the 2nd District. In the 13th District, which includes much of Northeast Philadelphia and a portion of Montgomery County, Democratic U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz defeated Republican businessman Dee Adcock.

Staff writer Christine Olley contributed to this report.

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