Dems keep Murtha seat

Democrats held on to former Rep. John Murtha's (D-Pa.) seat in a special election Tuesday.

Mark Critz (D), a former aide to Murtha, won the race to replace his late boss, defeating businessman Tim Burns (R) 54 percent to 44 percent with 75 percent of precincts reporting.

In the days before the race, Democrats had been pointing out it was the only contest that featured a party head-to-head matchup. Observers saw it as a bellwether for the November contests.

"This was the only race in the country today where a Democrat faced off against a Republican and the results are clear. Mark Critz focused on creating jobs for middle class families, while Republicans practiced the politics of fear and distortion," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said in a statement.

It's a harsh loss for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which spent close to $1 million supporting Burns' campaign. Moreover, Democrats were hyping expectations of a win for the GOP in recent days, which will only add salt to the committee's wounds.

In the lead-up to the vote, Burns billed the election as a referendum on national Democrats.

"Nancy Pelosi is holding fundraisers for him, the Vice President Joe Biden was here and Bill Clinton is coming to the district so this is extremely important because people know that a vote for Mark Critz is a vote for the Pelosi-Obama agenda,” he recently told Fox News.

Before the vote, Democratic strategists expressed confidence that if they could hold a district where President Barack Obama was widely unpopular in May, they could do so again in November.

NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) tried to sound upbeat after the loss.

"The bottom line is that the makeup of the House remains the same and our goal of winning back the majority in November has not changed," he said in a statement. "In just four days, we will have another election in another Democrat-held seat that stands to change the makeup of the House."

"Tonight’s result was undoubtedly disappointing, but we will take the lessons learned from this campaign and move forward in preparation for November," he said.

Both parties campaigned hard for the seat.

Democrats brought in former President Bill Clinton to campaign for Critz, while Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) campaigned for Burns.

— This post was updated at 10:55 p.m.