ANDOVER — James Lyons estimated he knocked on 6,000 to 7,000 doors in the sprawling 18th Essex House District, which takes in bits and pieces of Andover, North Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Methuen and Haverhill.
It paid off handsomely as Lyons, 57, a Republican, won an upset victory over state Rep. Barbara L'Italien, D-Andover, who was running for a fifth term.
"Isn't this unbelievable!" Lyons said as supporters congratulated him at a refurbished barn behind his High Vale Road home.
Meanwhile, over at the Casa Blanca Mexican restaurant on Main Street, L'Italien's backers were expecting to attend a victory party but were stunned to learn she lost.
While L'Italien and Lyons disagree on many issues — Lyons wants to prune the income tax to 5 percent, L'Italien does not — they expressed similar views on why voters rejected an incumbent.
"It has a lot to do with the frustration with their representation on Beacon Hill," said Lyons, who owns businesses that sell ice cream, flowers and Christmas trees. Massachusetts' high taxes have hurt the Merrimack Valley, he said.
L'Italien, who was a social worker before winning her first term in 2002, said, "It just feels like 1990." During that election of 20 years ago, she noted, Massachusetts voters were unhappy with incumbents and turned many of them out of office, including Susan Tucker, who was defeated in her re-election bid as a state representative from Andover.
Lyons said his priority will be to "get the economy moving."
Lyons said it's "too soon to tell" what committees he'll join. As a freshman Republican representative, he probably won't get his first choice.
Will he be able to work with Gov. Deval Patrick? Lyons said that despite the governor's victory, he can't help but understand that people are fed up with Massachusetts' rising taxes.
"We have a message. That message is clear," Lyons said.
L'Italien said it remains to be seen what she'll do for work starting in January, but indicated it will likely involve helping the disadvantaged.
"I'm deeply committed to working with people with disabilities," she said, noting that during her eight years in the Legislature, she has worked to help people with autism — and to make people in general more aware of that challenge.
Neither L'Italien nor Lyons lacked zealous fans in this race to represent one of the most oddly configured districts in the state.
Tillie Evangelista of Georgetown, a former selectman in that town, backed L'Italien in her first race for representative and stayed with her until the end.
"She has all the attributes of a good representative." she said.
Another Georgetown resident, Frank Puopolo, said he held signs for L'Italien and "helped any way I could." He and L'Italien worked together on "affordable housing issues" and
"She's the type of person we need in the Statehouse," he said.
Andover Selectman Brian Major called Lyons a "great guy" who will help impose "fiscal discipline" on state spending.
Marietta DeAngelo of Byfield, who worked for Lyons for six years right after she graduated from Reading High School, said he taught her just about everything she knows about business. Today, the 39-year-old mother of five runs an import business.