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Gerlach Comes From Behind to Eke Out Another Win

November 9, 2006 By:
Rachel Silverman, JE Staff
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Rep. Jim Gerlach

On Tuesday, the difference in mood between Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach's camp and that of his democratic challenger Lois Murphy seemed like night and day.

While an energized crowd of several hundred partied until the wee hours at Murphy's gala in King of Prussia, Gerlach's Exton-based affair emptied out early.

And though Gerlach himself appeared calm and collected when he addressed the room at around 10 p.m., the crowd died down to a few dozen within an hour or so; waitresses there began clearing the hors d'oeuvres tables well before midnight.

But by Wednesday morning, Gerlach appeared to have eked out a lead.

According to news reports, Gerlach gleaned 51 percent of the vote -- roughly 3,000 ballots more than his opponent.

Though Murphy held a majority in Montgomery County, Gerlach's edge in Berks, Chester and Lehigh counties appeared to have made the difference, according to the reports.

Still, neither side offered a concession -- or a victory speech.

Murphy spokesman Mark Nevins said that though these results counted all precincts, they did not cover provisional ballots, nor did they include the total number of absentee ballots.

Nevins said that although Murphy had not yet officially challenged the results, staff members are consulting with election lawyers and polling experts.

"When you've got a race this close, you don't want to unnecessarily cut off any avenues of action," said Nevins.

This scenario bore a striking resemblance to 2004, when the candidate's battle for the 6th Congressional District also came down to the final hour.

Then, as now, the campaign ended with the two neck and neck -- until Gerlach's 2 percent lead qualified him the winner.

In a statement before the roaring crowd around midnight last night, Murphy described the sensation as "sort of like déjà vu all over again."

Though she said she was "very encouraged" by early returns, Murphy cautioned that no conclusions should be drawn until outstanding districts -- like the Republican stronghold of Chester County -- came in.

"While the results are extremely gratifying, they're simply not final," she said.

Still, the enthusiasm in the room was palpable.

"The Democrats are on a roll," declared Whitpain Township resident and co-municipal chair Debby Wolfe, as cheers rang out for another Democratic gain. "There's clearly a mandate."

'Swingiest of the Swing'

But other Murphy celebrants held their breath.

Campaign volunteer Jennifer Bale-Kushner described the 6th Congressional District as "truly the swingiest of the swing."

"It's been gerrymandered like a pterodactyl," she said. "We were getting this kind of numbers at this point last year, too ... it's going to be close."

Over in Exton, Gerlach's mother, for one, remained confident.

Wearing a pin that unmistakably labeled her "Congressman Gerlach's Mom," the 78- year-old Helen Gerlach predicted a win for her son.

While she conceded that the Democrats seemed to be gaining ground, she said that constituents' "conscience won't permit them to be totally Democrat."

"They'll vote for one Republican and that will be Jim," she said.

During the race, Murphy attacked her opponent's support for Iraq and tried to paint him as a "yes" man for President George W. Bush.

A lawyer and former U.S. Department of Justice employee, Murphy described herself as the candidate for change, and a strong advocate for women and girls.

Despite taking a hard line on issues like immigration, Gerlach campaigned as a moderate Republican whose politics matched the district.

The Chester County resident also touted his seniority. Before his two-year term in Congress, Gerlach spent several years serving in the state legislature.

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