WASHINGTON - State Rep. Scott Petri, until recently considered the Republican favorite in the race for a Bucks County congressional seat, suddenly dropped out of the contest Monday night in favor of seeking to retain his statehouse seat.

Petri announced his decision Monday night at an endorsement screening with the Bucks County Republican Party in Northampton Township.

It came less than two weeks after Brian Fitzpatrick - brother of well-known incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick - entered the race.

Brian Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, has never held public office, but with his brother's name recognition, electoral success, and campaign war chest, he is seen as a formidable candidate.

Mike Fitzpatrick, a four-term Republican, is not running, citing a self-imposed term limit pledge.

"In order for us to be successful in November, it is important that we have a strong and unified party," Petri wrote in an email to supporters and post on Facebook. "It was clear to me that the primary election was shaping up to be one that would have divided, not unified our party."

The race for the Eighth District is one of the most competitive in the country, and both national parties have made it a priority. The district has regularly swung between Democratic and Republican control.

Petri, one of five Republicans in the primary, had raised more than any of his competitors and had won backing from many local officials.

Also running are neuropsychologist Marc Duome, former Assistant District Attorney Dean Malik, and former County Commissioner Andy Warren.

Democrats have their own primary between State Rep. Steve Santarsiero and businesswoman Shaugnessy Naughton.

The Eighth District includes Bucks County and a small piece of Montgomery County.