U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy guarantees it.

Come election night, he will be celebrating.

When the polls close Nov. 2, the two-term Democratic congressman from Bucks County plans to head to his house in Bristol Township.

There, a cake will await, a single candle will be lit, and "Happy Birthday" will be sung to little Jack Murphy, who turns 1 that day.

After that, Jack's father allows, all bets are off in the race for the Eighth Congressional District seat.

"It's going to go into the wee hours of the night," Murphy says of his rematch with Republican Mike Fitzpatrick, whom he ousted in 2006. "I'm going to be smiling, and I'm going to be proud that we gave it our best."

It sounds, for a moment, like a stock line in a concession speech. Then he adds: "I'm confident that the voters are going to give us another chance to serve them."

Two years ago, any such hedging from Murphy would have seemed unthinkable. Having won the seat from Fitzpatrick in a nail-biter - by 1,518 votes out of 249,794 cast - he coasted to victory in 2008, taking 57 percent of the vote.

By then, he was a rising Democratic star. In 2007, Murphy had been quick to come out in support of Sen. Barack Obama's presidential bid.

His alliance with party leaders has aided his ascent from obscure Iraq war veteran to Democratic National Convention speaker and party spokesman on certain legislative issues. In May, he scored a coveted seat on the House Appropriations Committee.

All this at age 37. But it could all come back to bite him Nov. 2.

Mirroring Murphy's 2006 campaign, Fitzpatrick has made the incumbent a whipping boy for an unpopular administration. Just as Murphy successfully turned voter anger over Iraq against him, Fitzpatrick expects a lousy economy to land Murphy in the unemployment line, where 8 percent of Bucks County residents now stand.

Murphy counters that he has brought 3,000 jobs to the district and has backed unpopular remedies needed to move the economy out of the mess he inherited.

If his uncertain reelection prospects have Murphy on edge, it's hard to tell.

Cheerful in public, quick with a quip - all delivered with a toothy grin and a thick Philly accent - Murphy plays the "happy warrior" role well.

"I love serving the district and the country," he says of dealing with angry voters and baleful polling numbers. As is his wont, Murphy weighs in with an Iraq war story, of returning from a mission in 120-degree heat with an unhappy teenage soldier under his command.

"He said, 'What are you smiling about?'

"I said, 'Life is good!'

"He said, 'This place sucks.'

"I said, 'This place might suck, but you've got to embrace it, brother.' "

County Democrats - having seen the outspent newcomer knock off the popular Fitzpatrick in 2006 - say: Don't bet against Murphy.

"He believed from Day One that he could win that seat," says Bucks County Democratic Party chairman John Cordisco, who admittedly needed some convincing back then. "As people got to know him, they liked him. He has a real sense of humility about him that is attractive to voters."

Murphy and his wife, Jenni, are still working off their college loans while rearing two small children. "It gives us empathy for those who are trying to live the American dream," he says.

On a recent day in his campaign office, Murphy chuckled about a photo of his backside in the New York Times, and about one Inquirer columnist's opinion that this year's local candidates are dull.

"I'm sorry that I don't harbor hatred for gay people and that I'm not a witch," he said. "People like that are exciting."

His life has been far from dull.

Murphy grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, just outside the Eighth District. His father, Jack, was a police officer; his mother, Marge, a legal secretary.

Undersize and the youngest of three children, Murphy earned praise as an altar boy, but acknowledges a Napoleon complex that led to frequent fisticuffs. Among his teen jobs: working as a 120-pound Eagles security guard in the notorious, hard-drinking 700 section of Veterans Stadium.

An indifferent student at Archbishop Ryan High School, Murphy failed to get into a four-year college. He had just enrolled at Bucks County Community College when a drinking buddy died in an alcohol-related accident.

"I remember thinking that I'd better start turning it on," he says. He made the dean's list and went to King's College in Wilkes-Barre, where he became president of the student body, captain of the hockey team, and, to help pay the bills, an ROTC cadet.

In 1996, Murphy led a student effort to stack sandbags and hold off floodwaters threatening Wilkes-Barre. That prompted a campus visit from President Bill Clinton, who praised Murphy in a speech.

Murphy has called Clinton's words "a turning point in my life," saying it "stamped in my heart a duty to serve."

He put off active duty to go to law school, then joined the faculty at West Point, where he taught constitutional law. He was there when terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001.

After an initial deployment to Bosnia, Murphy served in Baghdad in 2003 and 2004 as a captain in the 82d Airborne Division, earning a Bronze Star.

The experience politicized him, Murphy says. His unit lost 19 soldiers, he said, the troops were understaffed, and the vehicles they drove through a section of Baghdad called "Ambush Alley" had no doors, let alone armor.

Besides, he says, the military should instead have been pursuing al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

After volunteering in Bucks for John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, Murphy decided the next year to go after Fitzpatrick's seat.

"There was an excitement in him," says former County Commissioner Sandra Miller, the first elected official to back Murphy. "He was going to do whatever it took to win. He was going to be a candidate who was everywhere."

After trouncing a primary opponent, Murphy took on Fitzpatrick, campaigning so doggedly that he wore holes through his shoes.

The night of the vote, it was not until 1:30 a.m., with Fitzpatrick refusing to concede, that Murphy declared victory.

This year? Another close one, he says.

"I do the best job that I can," he says. "I'm able to look at myself in the mirror and tell people I gave it my all."

Patrick Murphy

Age: 37. Born Oct. 19, 1973, in Philadelphia

Residence: Edgely section of Bristol Township, Bucks County

Education: Archbishop Ryan High School. Bucks County Community College, 1992. B.A. in psychology and business, King's College, 1996. J.D., Widener School of Law, 1999

Professional experience: Army 1996-2007. Special assistant U.S. attorney in New York 2000-01. Assistant professor of constitutional law at West Point, 2001-03. Captain, 82d Airborne, deployed to Bosnia, 2002, and Iraq, 2003-04. Lawyer, Cozen O'Connor, 2005

Political experience: U.S. representative, 2006-10

Party: Democratic

Family: Wife, Jenni; two children


Contact staff writer Larry King at 215-345-0446 or lking@phillynews.com.