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Caroline Fan on November 13, 2008 - 11:48am
By KIMBERLY HEFLING
Seven-term GOP Rep. Phil English lost to a political newcomer Tuesday, while longtime Democratic Reps. Paul Kanjorski and John Murtha were able to hold back tough Republican challenges.
English conceded the race to Kathy Dahlkemper, a business owner, before midnight, saying he was proud of the work he had done serving northwestern Pennsylvania and that he didn't plan another run for public office.
"At the end of the day, I feel we were able to be a strong advocate for this region, this district and an independent voice in Congress," English said.
A social conservative who is a centrist on economic issues, English emphasized his work on behalf of the steel industry.
A mother of five who opposes abortion rights, Dahlkemper owns a landscape design and construction business with her husband. She said that, as a business owner, she could better sell the region.
Democrats saw Dahlkemper as an especially strong candidate in the swing district, which backed President Bush in the last two presidential elections but has seen rising Democratic voter registration.
English had a long career working in politics before taking office, having helped run former Sen. Rick Santorum's first campaign. He was elected in 1994, the year of the "Republican Revolution," and filled the seat vacated by Tom Ridge, who ran for governor.
With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Dahlkemper had 52 percent of the vote, while English had 48 percent.
Murtha, from southwestern Pennsylvania scrambled to jump-start his campaign after saying his constituents were racist, held off a surprisingly stiff challenge from Republican William Russell, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who moved to the district to take him on.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Murtha had 58 percent of the vote, while Russell had 42 percent.
In his hometown of Johnstown, supporters chanted "Welcome back Jack." Murtha said his emphasis on creating jobs is what mattered most to voters.
"You keep sending me back regardless of what I say," Murtha said.
Murtha hadn't anticipated a tough race against Russell, but he ran into trouble after he described western Pennsylvania as racist, apologized for the remark, then told another interviewer the area had been "really redneck" in years past.
In the last days of the campaign, Murtha admitted being "blindsided" and said he waited too long to ramp up his campaign. President Bill Clinton was even brought in to help him on Monday.
Murtha, 76, is a decorated Vietnam veteran who chairs the House defense appropriations subcommittee. His national profile was raised when he became one of the Democratic Party's most outspoken critics of the Iraq war.
He is also well-known _ and often criticized _ for the many millions of dollars of federal money he has brought home for pet projects.
In northeastern Pennsylvania, Kanjorski, a 12-term congressman, squeaked out a win against Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, a Republican mayor who became nationally prominent for his stand against illegal immigrants.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Kanjorski had 52 percent, and Barletta had 48 percent.
"We worked hard. We came up a little short in the end, but we ran a good campaign, a clean campaign, a campaign we can be proud of," Barletta said in his concession speech.
Barletta also lost to Kanjorski in 2002. He told reporters that it was too early to say whether he would mount a third challenge, but added that in a different year, the outcome might have been different. He said a strong showing for presidential winner Barack Obama contributed to Kanjorski's win.
Barletta pushed through a law in his community of 30,000 that sought to deny business permits to companies that employ illegal immigrants and fine landlords who rent to them. A federal judge struck down the ordinance as unconstitutional but his efforts were emulated in other towns around the country.
Kanjorski has come under fire for federal earmarks he has directed to the region, including nearly $10 million to a technology firm controlled by his family members which later went bankrupt and $3 million to a now-vacant office building named after him.
The state's only open seat was in a rural district in central and northern Pennsylvania vacated by GOP Rep. John Peterson's retirement. Peterson's chosen successor, Centre County GOP chairman Glenn Thompson, beat Democrat Mark McCracken, a Clearfield County commissioner.
The state's four freshman Democratic congressmen, Joe Sestak, Jason Altmire, Chris Carney and Patrick Murphy, each won re-election.
Associated Press Writer Ramit Plushnick-Masti contributed from Johnstown. Associated Press Writer Michael Rubinkam contributed from Hazleton.