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Defying the odds... almost

From NBC's Mark Potter
Hutchinson Island, FL -- For most of the night, the mood at Joe Negron's campaign HQ was loud and upbeat. His many supporters there were convinced that he had defied the odds after replacing the disgraced Mark Foley in a late bid to secure this House seat, a traditional Republican stronghold. It was a race drawing international attention.

More than a few political analysts were anticipating a Negron victory over businessman Tim Mahoney, a Democrat running in his first campaign. They argued that Negron had surged in the polls and would ride the momentum to victory. Even with Foley's name still on the ballot, many believed a majority of voters would rally behind the man the national GOP had spent nearly $2 million trying to elect. The campaign slogan of "Punch Foley to Elect Joe Negron" had reverberated throughout the district.

But shortly before 11:00 pm, there were danger signs that only a few here in the jubilant crowd seemed to notice. Mahoney was maintaining a razor-thin lead. Counties that many believed would overwhelmingly trend Republican were split more evenly. And then came a terse announcement that in a few minutes Negron would join the crowd to talk about what was happening. To those paying attention, it didn't feel like victory.

Before the microphone, Negron put on a good face, talking about the challenges he had to overcome, including a late start in the campaign, and of course, the fact his name by law would never be on the ballot. He thanked his supporters for all their hard work and then dropped the bomb, saying, "We came up short."

Throughout the crowd there was a painful groan. Many were caught off-guard and were stunned. More than a few would leave the room weeping. They truly thought they had pulled off a major upset in the 11th hour.

By virtually all accounts, Negron was a solid candidate who ran an aggressive and well-supported campaign. But even in this district, which has been represented by a Republican congressman for three decades, it wasn't enough in the age of Foley and Iraq. The voters spoke and sent a previously unheard-of Democrat off to Washington, and in that were heard around the country, and around the world.