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It was the only congressional district in Pennsylvania to vote for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004 and for Republican candidate John McCain in 2008, and is seen as a key test of the GOP’s appeal to conservative Democrats.

Republican operatives said privately that their party blew a chance to win the seat, and party leaders said they’ll have to study what went wrong.

“Tonight’s result was undoubtedly disappointing, but we will take the lessons learned from this campaign and move forward in preparation for November,” said Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

He said Mr. Critz defeated Republican Tim Burns by running away from Mr. Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Still, Democrats’ House special election winning streak is likely to come to an end Saturday, when voters in Hawaii fill the seat of former Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who resigned to run for governor.

Two Democrats are splitting their party’s vote in that liberal district, leaving Republican candidate Charles Djou ahead in the polls. That election is being conducted by mail.