By Letitia Stein
TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) - Democrats in the U.S. Congress took solace in a rare bright spot in Florida on Tuesday night, where they won two of three tightly contested, nationally watched races.
In a razor-thin race in Republican-leaning north Florida, Democrats unseated Representative Steve Southerland, a Tea Party conservative serving his second term in the state’s 2nd Congressional District.
Challenger Gwen Graham won with 50.6 percent of the vote, early results showed, after playing up the enduring appeal of her famous father, long-time U.S. Senator and former governor Bob Graham.
Graham immediately posted a "thank-you" to her Twitter account, crediting her victory to the hard work of supporters.
In southeastern Florida, Democrat Patrick Murphy handily won a second term representing the 18th congressional district, fending off Republican challenger Carl Domino.
"Over the last two years, Patrick has shown that he knows how to bring people together to break through the gridlock and get things done," said Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant in a statement.
Murphy led preliminary results with nearly 60 percent of the vote to Domino's 40 percent.
But Republicans in south Florida settled scores by taking back a seat they lost in 2012 in an all-Cuban-American tussle between incumbent Democrat Representative Joe Garcia and a youthful rival, Carlos Curbelo.
Garcia, 51, was the first Cuban-American Democrat in Florida to win election to Congress, after a long line of Republicans.
He lost to challenger Curbelo, 34, whose political experience includes running the campaigns of senior south Florida Republicans. Curbelo's hardline anti-Castro conservatism resonated with the district's older Cuban American voters.
(Additional reporting by David Adams in Miami; Editing by Eric Walsh)