Philadelphia (AP) - Pat Toomey, the Republican conservative whose popularity scared Arlen Specter from the GOP, was elected to Specter's Senate seat Tuesday in one of the most hotly contested races in the nation.
Toomey, a 48-year-old former congressman, investment banker and restaurateur from the Allentown area, defeated Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak after hammering him on his liberal voting record and his ties to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Toomey had 51 percent to Sestak's 49 percent, winning by fewer than 75,000 votes out of nearly 3.9 million cast.
Toomey, a strict free-market advocate, will take office with an eye toward cutting spending and deficits and repealing, or at least making drastic changes to, the sweeping federal health care law that Obama signed in March.
"We've got to remember a very fundamental and important truth, and that is that governments don't create wealth," Toomey told exuberant supporters. "Wealth and prosperity come from men and women who get up every day and go to work."
Sestak, 58, now in his second term representing a suburban Philadelphia district, is a former Navy vice admiral who commanded an aircraft carrier group in war after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
It was the prospect of a tough challenge from Toomey that led Specter to quit the Republican Party and become a Democrat in 2009. But it was Sestak who put an end to Specter's 30-year Senate career by defeating him in a shocking primary upset last spring.
Tuesday's balloting capped a bare-knuckled campaign in which voters were inundated with tens of millions of dollars in TV and Internet attack ads and campaign fliers as they decided on a successor to Specter, whose voting record exemplified Pennsylvania's middle-of-the-road politics and kept him in the Senate for five terms.
The two candidates are ideological opposites who portrayed each other as too extreme for Pennsylvania.
Toomey sought to tap into voter dissatisfaction over unemployment and the shaky economy to argue that Sestak, and his support for Obama's policies, were to blame. The Republican contended that the Obama administration's "extreme leftward lurch" required someone like him to help bring balance to Washington.
Sestak worked to convince voters that he was stuck cleaning up an economic mess made by Toomey and the Bush administration's policies. He cast Toomey as an apologist for Wall Street whose zeal for tax-cutting and deregulation helped cause the recession and sent jobs overseas.
The race cost more than $50 million, including spending by the candidates, political parties, unions and national business advocates in the general election and the bruising Democratic primary.
Specter narrowly won his fifth term after overcoming a Toomey challenge in the GOP primary in 2004. The senator switched parties shortly after Toomey declared he wanted a rematch this year; Specter acknowledged his chances of winning the nomination in the increasingly conservative GOP were slim.
Obama and other Democratic leaders shunned Sestak and endorsed Specter in the May primary. But Sestak billed himself as the true Democrat, and called Specter a Democrat out of convenience, not conviction. He won with 54 percent of the vote, after which the Democratic establishment enthusiastically embraced him.
Associated Press writers JoAnn Loviglio in St. Davids, Pa., and Maryclaire Dale in Fogelsville, Pa., contributed to this report.