Fitzpatrick wins 8th District race

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Matt Schickling / Times photo

The 8th Congressional District seat will remain in the Fitzpatrick name.

Republican Brian Fitzpatrick announced victory over Democrat Steve Santarsiero by a margin of about 54 to 46 percent with 298 of 304 Bucks County districts reporting.

Fitzpatrick will be replacing his brother, current U.S. Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick. Mike was first elected in 2004, then lost to Democrat Patrick Murphy in ‘06. He placed a four-term limit on himself when he successfully campaigned to regain the seat from Murphy in 2010.

Now Brian will carry the torch for the 8th District.

“This is your victory tonight,” Fitzpatrick said to supporters during his victory speech at the Bucks County Republican headquarters in Doylestown. “As hard as this campaign has been, now the real work begins.”

Fitzpatrick made his return to Bucks County in January after six years living out of state, serving as an FBI agent working in counter-terrorism and political corruption. Back then, he stood on the steps of the Bucks County Justice Center and announced he would run for Congress to replace his brother, saying, “He could have held the seat for the rest of his life.”

There may be some truth to that claim. Mike will walk away as a well-respected member of the House, who remained popular with the community he served throughout his tenure.

During his victory speech, Fitzpatrick called his brother “the best representative the 8th District has ever had and ever will have.”

Sharing that last name has likely been a boon for Fitzpatrick in the polls. He entered into the primary as the prohibitive favorite, pushing the previous front-runner, state Rep. Scott Petri, out of the race and back into a re-election campaign for the state House. Fitzpatrick routed two primary opponents, backed with near-unanimous support from the local GOP.

In Santarsiero, he faced a more formidable opponent. Santarsiero has been a teacher at Bensalem High School, a supervisor in Lower Makefield and a state representative in the 31st District over the last four terms.

Through three debates and campaigns that drew national attention, the two remained mostly cordial and focused on the issues. For all of the competitiveness and harsh rhetoric this election cycle, this race did not scratch the surface of the animosity shown in the presidential race.

But it did have its moments.

The candidates quarreled over Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for parts of the first two debates. Santarsiero dogged Fitzpatrick for his initial support of Trump, then for revoking that support after videos leaked of Trump’s vulgar comments about women. Fitzpatrick hit Santarsiero on his unwavering support of Hillary Clinton all along.

Santarsiero claimed Fitzpatrick “parachuted” into the 8th District to run for his brother’s seat. There was even the “California Brian” moment early on, where the Santarsiero team attempted to meme Fitzpatrick into a surfer-type coming from California to run for Congress in a Pennsylvania race.

“If his name were not Brian Fitzpatrick, say it was Brian Wilson, he’d still be living in a beach house in California,” Santarsiero said during the second debate.

Fitzpatrick does have ties to Bucks County — he grew up in Levittown. His response to the carpetbagger claims is that he was serving, not surfing, in the FBI in California, D.C. and overseas.

“It is highly insulting to criticize someone who leaves their hometown to serve their country,” Fitzpatrick said then and repeated that position whenever the question of his legitimacy as a local candidate came in.

On issues, Fitzpatrick and Santarsiero did not disagree on much, but their backgrounds and what their campaigns focused on made the difference. Santarsiero stayed aligned to Democratic ideals, particularly pushing gun safety legislation and education funding.

Fitzpatrick brought a national security perspective to most issues. He blasted international trade deals made by the United States in the past. He said he would focus on cutting off international money laundering that funds terrorism. He wants secure borders. He showed he was flexible from the usual Republican platform, supporting LGBT rights and environmental protection.

There were elements of this race that were not typical of the usual congressional campaign. Massive amounts of money poured in, from individual contributors and from PACs. Televisions played “Brian Fitzpatrick is not Mike Fitzpatrick” and “taxin’ Steve Santarsiero” on a continuous loop.

Bucks County was dubbed by national media outlets as the county that could swing the state in the presidential race, and the political celebrities came flying in.

Donald Trump came to Newtown. Ivanka Trump came to Doylestown. Mike Pence came to Pipersville and Bensalem. None of them spoke in support of Fitzpatrick, who wasn’t supporting Trump by the end.

The Democratic side was different. Joe Biden visited Levittown and Bristol Borough. Tim Kaine and Bill Clinton came to Lower Bucks. There were Democratic campaign offices in Doylestown and Bristol Borough recruiting volunteers. Santarsiero was able to glean support from all of that.

In the end, Fitzpatrick was able to win voters in the district and in a county where Democrats hold an approximate 11,000 registration advantage.

Later in the evening, as a Trump presidency looked likely, Fitzpatrick left the stage to speak to the press.

He was asked how he was able to resonate with voters.

“They wanted someone coming from outside the system,” he said of his campaign. “An outsider perspective that projects a lot of sense in a system that doesn’t have a lot of common sense.”

It seems like 2016 was the right year for that kind of candidacy.

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