EBENSBURG - Tuesday was a bittersweet night for State Sen. John Wozniak's followers, whose celebration of a tight win over challenger Tim Houser was marred by U.S. Rep. Mark Critz's equally close defeat.
"We're all sort of one ... sort of melded. And it hurts," Wozniak said shortly before midnight Tuesday. His Cambria County-based 35th Senate District partly overlapped Critz's congressional territory.
Wozniak's volunteers, based out of Critz's Cambria County headquarters, were left mourning a federal defeat even as their candidate touted "Herculean" plans for his fifth state Senate term.
Wozniak, a Democrat whose extensive legislative experience became a main campaign point, said he hopes to spearhead education finance reforms in his next round.
"The people who knew who I was - they made sure to come out," he said.
Wozniak scraped by with a 2 percent victory over Houser, whom he portrayed as a likeable individual controlled by Machiavellian party bosses in Harrisburg.
"He's a really nice man. But it's Harrisburg party politics - it drummed up emotions. They just continued to hammer away," Wozniak said.
His campaign ads showed as much, with a cartoonish Gov. Tom Corbett controlling a grinning Houser marionette.
Speaking as his followers parted ways and readied for bed after an 18-hour day, Houser, an Ebensburg funeral home director, seemed upbeat in spite of his loss.
"We're proud of what we've done," Houser said Tuesday night, stressing that he didn't want his supporters to become jaded in the wake of defeat. "We were very fortunate to do what we did: a Cinderella story, in many ways."
Houser said another run for political office is unlikely; he'll return to his funeral home after a few days' rest, he said.
"Sometimes God chooses you to bloom where you're planted," he said.
For a relative unknown with no political experience, Houser's 49 percent showing was impressive; Wozniak acknowledged Tuesday that he'd long expected a tight race.
"We eked it out. It was a tough election," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.