BOCA RATON, Fla. — A Democratic state senator on Tuesday handily won the first U.S. House race since Congress passed a massive health care overhaul, beating a decidedly underdog Republican who tried to use the backlash against the measure to pull an upset.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Florida state Sen. Ted Deutch had 62 percent of the vote compared to 35 percent for Republican Ed Lynch. No-party candidate Jim McCormick trailed far behind with just 3 percent. The Associated Press called the race just about two hours after the polls closed.
Deutch, an attorney, and Lynch, a contractor, both 44, were vying to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler.
"I have never before felt the way that I feel at this moment," Deutch said to cheering supporters.
"We've heard for months that tonight ... is a referendum on health care, it's a referendum on the (President Barack Obama) administration, it's a referendum on what direction this country is going," Deutch added. "Let me tell you something, what we learned today is that in Broward County and Palm Beach County, Florida, the Democratic Party is alive and well."
Lynch of West Palm Beach sought to make the race a statement on the health care bill in District 19, which includes parts of both counties. About 40 percent of voters are senior citizens. But he had a tough task. Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1 – 234,000 to about 111,000.
"Obviously, it's not the results that we wanted," Lynch said.
"But it proved that people are willing to get out there and take our country back," he said of his supporters.
Wexler, a self-proclaimed "fire-breathing liberal," left office in January during his seventh congressional term to head a Middle East think tank. He was hugely popular in the district, which voted about 65 percent for Obama in 2008. Wexler, of Boca Raton, had endorsed Deutch.
He will now serve the remaining eight months of Wexler's term, then will have to run in November for his own full term.
Lynch had hoped public disdain for the health care bill and low congressional approval ratings would help him upset Deutch, widely seen as the front-runner. He sought to do what Republican Scott Brown did in Massachusetts when he won the Senate seat held for nearly a half-century by Democrat Edward M. Kennedy.
Lynch lambasted the health care overhaul as a government takeover and the gutting of Medicare, while Deutch told voters it would provide immediate relief.
Lynch had also slammed Obama's stimulus bill as doing little to help the economy and called the president's timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq "moronic."
Deutch said he would have voted for the health care overhaul and the stimulus bill and supports Obama's Iraq strategy.