Patrick Meehan cruises past Bryan Lentz in Seventh Congressional District

Patrick Meehan kisses his wife, Carolyn, before addressing supporters at his victory celebration at the Springfield Country Club in Delaware County.
Patrick Meehan kisses his wife, Carolyn, before addressing supporters at his victory celebration at the Springfield Country Club in Delaware County.
Posted: November 03, 2010

Republican Patrick Meehan convincingly defeated Democratic rival State Rep. Bryan Lentz on Tuesday, claiming the bitterly contested House seat vacated by Joe Sestak when he decided to run for the U.S. Senate.

With the victory by Meehan, 55, a former U.S. attorney from Drexel Hill, the GOP reclaimed the Seventh Congressional District seat hard-won in 2006 by Sestak, only the second Democrat since the Civil War to represent the district, which includes most of Delaware County and parts of Montgomery and Chester Counties.

At a victory celebration at the Springfield Country Club in Delaware County, Meehan, cheerful but mellow, told a crowd of more than 500 screaming supporters to celebrate now because hard work lay ahead.

"This is a great victory for us," he said. "But for a lot of people around this region, there is no victory tonight, because they still don't have a job."

He added that "the big challenge is going to Washington and re-creating a sense of . . . opportunity and hope for the future of America."

Meehan benefited from a wave of disgruntled voters who favored Republicans across the country. And as a former district attorney in Delaware County, the heart of the district, Meehan had name recognition and a crime-fighting reputation to boot.

Lentz, 46, a two-term state representative and an Iraq war veteran, told supporters that he couldn't be more proud of their work, which included a massive get-out-the-vote operation that hit more than 20,000 doors last weekend.

"Tonight was the end of what was a great campaign, and it was a great campaign because of you," he told supporters at an American Legion hall in Upper Darby, a longtime Republican stronghold where Democrats now outnumber Republicans in registered-voter counts.

He said that despite the losses - the Democrat seeking to fill Lentz's state House seat also was defeated - the Delaware County Democratic Party "is not going away."

Meehan and Lentz tussled for the better part of the year, battling over everything from signatures on their nominating papers to expenses each had incurred at taxpayer largesse. They met in five debates, with the pugnacious Lentz always asking for more chances to go toe-to-toe with Meehan.

In an electioneering twist, during the summer Lentz supporters helped put a third-party "spoiler" candidate on the ballot. Jim Schneller, 55, a conservative candidate, espouses some tea party views and has filed dozens of unsuccessful lawsuits, including a challenge to President Obama's citizenship.

Schneller won a tiny percentage of the vote Tuesday; Democrats had hoped his numbers would be the deciding factor in a tight race.

But the margins never bore out for Lentz.

And Lentz's role in Schneller's candidacy dogged him in the closing weeks of the campaign. He admitted in late October that he knew his supporters had collected thousands of signatures to put Schneller's name on the ballot. They hoped the more conservative Schneller could draw votes from Meehan.

But the reminder of Schneller stuck in the craw of some voters, who saw the move as sneaky.

"I don't like the dirty . . . politics," said Nate Lydon, 25, a voter in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby. "I didn't really know too much about Lentz, but I knew about Schneller, and I didn't really like that."

Kevin McTigue, Lentz's campaign manager, said the results said more about the Republican wave sweeping the country than they did about Schneller.

"I doubt it had anything to with the issues with Schneller," he said. "The greatest factor was the letter next to Bryan Lentz's name," meaning his party affiliation.

Meehan left his post as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in the summer of 2008, when he was exploring a run for governor. But Republicans soon lined up behind Tom Corbett, who won the race for governor Tuesday.

When Sestak vacated his seat, Delaware County Republicans began courting Meehan to run for it, knowing he had the kind of pedigree and name recognition that would make his a formidable candidacy.


Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 610-627-0352 or jfarrell@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writers Katie Eder and Dan Hardy contributed to this article.

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