STRATFORD — Phil Young, the Democratic incumbent in Stratford’s 120th House seat, defeated his Republican opponent Jim Feehan by just 18 votes Tuesday.

Election officials put the final tally at 5,217 votes for Young and 5,199 votes for Feehan. Democrat Prez Palmer, running as an independent, got 55 votes.

Even though Young was the incumbent, he was still seen as the underdog in the race. For starters, there was no shortage of anti-Democrat sentiment in town, owing to Dannel P. Malloy, the outgoing Democratic and very unpopular governor.

Then there was the “spoiler” candidacy of Palmer. It was wildly felt in the political establishment that a vote for Palmer was, in effect, a vote for Feehan. And the 120th has traditionally been a GOP seat.

“It shows that people respond to issues as opposed to bluster,” Young said Wednesday. “It’s fine to say that you’re going to lower taxes, but tell us how you’re going to do that — what’s your plan?”

The race was so tight, it’ll trigger an automatic recount, Town Hall said. But it’s possible that Feehan could wave off a recount. Officials say that even though there’s only an 18-vote difference, finding 18 votes in a recount in a House race is a tall order indeed.

Officials in Town Hall were counting votes until about 3 o’clock Wednesday morning.

“We were up to the early morning hours,” said a relieved Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Stephanie Philips. “Prez Palmer ran to be the spoiler, and we overcame that.”

The 120th, comprising much of Stratford’s North End, had been a GOP stronghold for decades. Its last Republican occupant was Laura Hoydick, but she gave up the seat in January after she was elected mayor, setting up a special election showdown between Republican Bill Cabral — a popular old hand in town politics — and Young, a former Democratic Town Council member.

That Young-Cabral contest last winter was a cliffhanger, too. Young won by just 63 votes; the final tally was 1,615 for Young and 1,552 for Cabral. Turnout — as it is for most special elections in town — was dismal, frustrating both sides.

The 120th district has 18,118 registered voters. Of these, 5,361 are Democrats, 3,958 are Republicans, 8,601 are unaffiliated and 198 belong to minor parties.