Andrews' victory, in fact, came despite some erosion of Democratic support in traditionally loyal towns, such as the gritty blue-collar burgs along the Black Horse Pike in Camden County and the ones nestled against the Delaware River in Gloucester County.
Nonetheless, Andrews scraped together the votes he needed, winning by a 5-4 ratio and even carrying the portion of the district that sits in Mangini's home county of Gloucester.
Without support in suburban boom towns such as Monroe and Deptford Townships, Mangini could never compensate for his thrashing in the polling booths of Camden City, where he took fewer than one of every five votes cast.
By capturing the Florio seat, Andrews culminated a rapid political rise that began four years ago when, as a relatively unknown Bellmawr lawyer, he won a seat on the Camden County freeholder board and maneuvered himself into the position of freeholder director a year later.
Last night, as Democratic loyalists began gathering by the hundreds in the Phoenix Room at Garden State Park, some party activists acknowledged that Andrews was swimming against a rising tide of anti-Florio anger. But as a five-piece orchestra played Big Band sounds in the background, the crowd of party workers, Camden County employees and other supporters seemed at ease.
"Rob has pulled ahead and we expected that," said Maria Barnaby Greenwald, who succeeded Andrews as Camden County freeholder director two months ago.
As the evening wore on, Andrews' victory became increasingly clear - but it was bittersweet, because his Democratic running mates for the freeholder board suffered a surprising loss. Come January, Greenwald will be the only Democrat on a board controlled by her party for nearly two decades.
Shortly before 11 p.m., returns from Mangini's home town of Washington Township - the largest and most unpredictable community in Gloucester County - showed that Andrews had lost there by only a slim margin. The election was over.
But Andrews did not take the stage, festooned with red, white and blue flowers, until shortly before midnight.
"If you thought tonight was something, wait till you see what we're going to do over two years," he told the crowd. "I'm not the victor of this election. You are, because you made it possible."
Down in Washington Township, Mangini's headquarters reflected the bare- bones effort of his entire campaign. About an hour after the polls closed, only 15 Republicans were milling around the bar at the Wedgewood Country Club, still decorated with pumpkins and Halloween streamers. Posters for Monday Night Football outnumbered those for Mangini. And television reporters and photographers outnumbered his supporters.
Early on, Republicans said they were encouraged by returns showing that Mangini was hanging close on Andrews' heels.
"You've got a guy who spent like 37 cents and he's in the race," marveled John Rogale, a campaign spokesman.
When Mangini finally arrived around 10:30 p.m., he conceded that he had been outhustled and outspent by the Andrews campaign.
"We started six months ago knowing we'd go down in defeat, but until the last 15 minutes I thought we could win," said Mangini, his voice weary and his eyes rimmed with red.
"To Rob Andrews," he added, "you'd better be a good congressman, because I'm watching you. The people of the First District need someone to rely on. And if you're not that person, you'll have someone chasing you."
Until the very end, Mangini's backers said they hoped that outrage over Florio's tax package would make the difference.
Andrews' relatively narrow lead in the suburbs of his home county of Camden illustrated just how much Democratic support had eroded, apparently because of widespread resentment over the governor's controversial tax package.
The small, working-class Camden County towns along the Black and White Horse Pikes traditionally are the Democratic spine of the First District, but their residents also are the kind of folks who formed the backbone of the anti-Florio opposition.
Traditionally Democratic towns, such as Runnemede and Mount Ephraim, showed Andrews with a comfortable - but not overwhelming - lead. In Somerdale, the heart of Florio country, where he opened his first district office nearly two decades ago, voters backed Florio's protege, Andrews, but not overwhelmingly.
Andrews had hoped to weather the anti-Florio storm by using his substantial monetary advantage - about nine times Mangini's resources at last report - to
shift the focus of the campaign through advertising.
On television and in a barrage of nasty mailings, Andrews hammered away at Mangini's ambiguous stand on abortion, his voting record on taxes and the distortion of his educational background on his resume.
This recipe of money and muscle, merit and mean-spiritedness translated into a political triumph that crossed most demographic boundaries.
(99% of the vote)
Robert E. Andrews (D) 72,557
Daniel J. Mangini (R) 57,209