Republican Pat Toomey becomes the first person from the Lehigh Valley to join the U.S. Senate since the mid-19th century. He edged Democrat Joe Sestak 51 percent to 49 percent Tuesday in the Pennsylvania race to succeed Arlen Specter.
Toomey won with the perfect message at the perfect time, an unyielding anti-spending anti-government mantra in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 1 million voters.
"Today we send a simple, clear message to the establishment in Washington. We are tired of what is going on down there," Toomey said. "We are tired and we are going to chart a new course."
The win came very late on a day of national Republican victories. Sestak, a party outsider with a quirky style and an atypical campaign, almost pulled off the upset.
Sestak came out of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with big numbers, but it wasn't enough to carry the state's Republican heartland. The Associated Press called the race at 11:43 p.m.
"You had two candidates that are clearly left and right of center fighting for the ultimate centrist state," said Chris Borick, a political scientist at Muhlenberg College. "This year was more conducive to the right-leaning candidate, which is Pat Toomey."
After midnight, Toomey addressed cheering Valley supporters and staff, clearly humbled.
Sestak told his suburban Philadelphia supporters that even knowing the outcome of his long-fought Senate campaign, he'd do it all again.
"Pennsylvanians," he said, "they're something else."
Both men led exhaustive get-out-the-vote efforts in the final days as many public opinion polls showed Toomey's months-long lead narrowing to a few percentage points.
Toomey seemed calm and confident as he surprised volunteers at the GOP headquarters in Lancaster County early Tuesday afternoon.
"I think it's going to be strong. We're making a big loop around the state for one last final push," he said. Later he added he is "looking forward to a win tonight and getting to the hard work."
As results trickled in to a Toomey election night party at the Holiday Inn in Fogelsville, some supporters got a little jittery, especially with early returns showing Sestak ahead.
Retired state banking examiner Leonard Bayich of Harrisburg worried what will happen to the country if Toomey and other fiscal conservatives fail to put a brake on what he called the out-of-control spending of the Obama administration.
Bayich said news that Philadelphia turnout was a little higher than anticipated was a little worrying.
"To me, the main thing is the future of our grandchildren," Bayich said. "We are racking up unsustainable deficits even our grandchildren won't be able to repay."
Sestak's campaign manager and brother, Richard Sestak, walked around the ballroom at the Radnor Hotel in suburban Philadelphia. He said the race would be a nail-biter -- "within one or two points," he predicted. He was right.
The tone of the race was negative and at times bitter. The two candidates had hoped to stay above the fray, but both campaigns soon gave way to sniping and nitpicking.
Sestak accused Toomey of being a "hands-off" owner at the restaurants he owned in Allentown. Toomey accused Sestak of being a hypocrite backtracking on a personal pledge not to request earmarks from corporations that donated to his campaign.
Their political ads, both from their campaigns and from outside interest groups, were intensely negative.
Voters at two polling places in Allentown Tuesday evening expressed disgust with the negativity of this year's midterm election.
Stephanie Petner, 32, a registered independent, voted for Toomey but for Democrat John Callahan for Congress. She said she nearly stayed home this year.
"At first I wasn't going to vote," she said. "I felt the ads were too aggressive and I was really bothered by it."
She said she ultimately voted for Toomey because of the television commercials that featured his family, saying she liked his message that he was concerned about his children's future.
Duane Tolson, a registered Democrat from Allentown, also said he almost did not vote because he feels candidates from both political parties fail to give straight answers and their ads are "overboard." In the end he cast a vote for Sestak, saying he does not agree with Toomey's more conservative fiscal positions.
The Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race, which began more than a year ago, was one of the most closely watched in the nation.
A former Lehigh Valley congressman, Toomey decided to challenge Specter after narrowly losing to him in the 2004 Republican primary, setting the stage for one of the most dramatic political stories of this election cycle. Specter, sensing he would not survive a second round against Toomey, left the Republican Party after more than 30 years and sought re-election as a Democrat.
Specter ultimately lost to Sestak, a Delaware County congressman.
What resulted was a general election battle between two men diametrically opposed on the political spectrum.
Sestak represented everything tea party activists had been railing against -- he cast votes for every major Obama administration item, including the $787 billion stimulus package, the health care reform law and various bailout programs.
Toomey positioned himself as the outside Washington candidate who would hold his nose and go down to the U.S. Capitol on the sole mission of limiting the federal government's power, lowering taxes and slicing spending.
Toomey will be a very different type of legislator than Specter. While Specter was known for combing the state, promising federal dollars to local leaders for specific projects, Toomey signed a pledge not to request earmarks. He is a champion of free market enterprise, entrepreneurship and private business.
Despite his best efforts to distance himself from the more colorful conservative candidates this cycle, like Sharron Angle in Nevada or Ken Buck in Colorado, Toomey is not and has never been a moderate.
The last U.S. senator from the Lehigh Valley was Richard Brodhead, from Easton, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1851 to 1857.
Reporters Scott Kraus and Devon Lash contributed to this story.