Illinois Primary Election Scorecard

March 16, 2016
 
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner

Gov. Bruce Rauner and his allies spent heavily on Tuesday's primary, but still lost two major races seen as "proxy wars" between he and House Speaker Michael Madigan and unions.

WUIS

Hillary Clinton eeked out a win in the state where she was born and raised, Donald Trump prevailed despite lackluster support from most of the state's GOP leaders, voters finalized who'll compete to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate, and a couple dozen state legislative contests were decided Tuesday night in Illinois' primary election.

With its primary a full month and a half after the Iowa caucuses, Illinois isn't usually in play for presidential primaries.

But the strong storms that swept across much of the state last night couldn't have been a better metaphor — the political winds have shifted.

With her hometown ties and support from the Cook County Democratic machine, Clinton was expected to have Illinois locked down; instead, she just barely took the state where she grew up. And despite negligible support from Republican party officials here, Donald Trump cruised to victory -- followed by conservative Ted Cruz.

But other races suggest Illinois voters don't want sweeping change. Or, at least, don't want the "shakeup" as promised by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The most obvious example of that is in the success of Rauner's political nemesis: Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Rauner unceasingly faults Madigan for Illinois' financial disarray. Yet roughtly two-thirds of the voters in Madigan's Chicago district choose him over Ivy-League educated consultant Jason Gonzales, despite Gonzales' having the benefit of newly-created political action committee that spent some $400,000 trying to unseat the Speaker.

That's a mere fraction of what Rauner's camp spent in other failed attempts to win influence in the General Assembly.

"We have sent a powerful message that will be heard across Illinois. We need a state that works for everyone, not just a few of great wealth, power and privilege," said Juliana Stratton, the victor of a Democratic primary against State Rep. Ken Dunkin.

Dunkin, though a Democrat, sided with Rauner, a Republican, on a few key votes. It earned Dunkin the ire of his caucus and a challenge from Stratton, but Rauner and his allies spent $3.4 million dollars in an attempt to send Dunkin back to Springfield.

Instead, Chicago voters sent Dunkin packing.

"The residents of our diverse district recognize that they have not been well-served for the last 13 years by an AWOL state representative, more focused on self-service than public service, who decided to switch parties in fact, if not name, and join forces with a small group of radical Republicans that are working to dismantle our social safety net and the institutions necessary for a thriving city and state," Stratton said in her victory speech.

Rauner and his friends got a similar return on their investment in a downstate race, on the Republican side of the aisle.

You may think that as a Republican, Rauner wouldn't be spending money to defeat an incumbent Republican, but a PAC supported by Gov. Rauner spent $3 million in an attempt to unseat GOP State Sen. Sam McCann.

Back in August, McCann defied Rauner to side with unions on a piece of legislation the governor called the worst bill he'd ever seen.

You could say Rauner tried to make an example out of McCann, by subjecting him to a public, political flogging. It nearly worked; but voters in the sprawling, west-central Illinois district didn't buy it, and gave McCann a narrow victory.

"I really do believe that you should treat people the way that you want to be treated. So am I disappointed that they chose to take that tack? I am. But that was their decision, that was their choice. Those are decisions and choices they'll have to live with and reconcile within their consciences. I'm prepared to go to work tomorrow ... I'm looking forward to going to work tomorrow for the people of the district."

That's not to say McCann's troubles are over; he's facing an inquiry from state election authorities over campaign expenses and reimbursements.

But his success in this race coupled with Dunkin's defeat are raising questions about whether Rauner's quest for pro-business, anti-union changes will continue to be Republicans' priority over a budget, as Illinois continues in its ninth month without one. Of course, Rauner and Democrats will have the chance to battle it out again in November's general election.

The governor's spokesman didn't return a request for comment.

Rauner did have a series of smaller victories in the primary: his preferred candidate, former Rep. Brad Halbrook, in a three-way 102nd House race in east-central Illinois won, over James Acklin, who was backed by former GOP Gov. Jim Edgar. And each of the GOP state representatives Rauner's had a hand in appointing to vacated House seats won their primary races: Springfield's Sara Wojcicki Jimenez beat Donald Trump's state field director, Kent Gray, in the 99th district (which includes much of the city of Springfield) and Rep. Avery Bourne of Raymond successfully nudged out an opponent, Dennis Scobbie, with heavy union backing in the 95th.

Illinois lawmakers have, in recent years, made it easier to vote for any and all of these candidates (the primary was the first time that voters statewide could register to vote on election day, and that 17 year-old who will be 18 by the Nov. 8 general election could participate), and it appears that voters in yesterday's primary took advantage.

Officials reported higher than expected turnout.

So much so, that officials in Adams, Kendall, McHenry and Sangamon Counties had to rush to print more ballots, and were forced to keep polls open late.

Voters in those places were still waiting in line, by the time some blow-out races were called -- like in the primary contests for the U.S. Senate.

"I'll be fighting for fiscal sanity and lower taxes and a balanced budget ... especially in Illinois," said incumbent Senator Mark Kirk, who easily surpassed Oswego businessman James Marter.

He's expected to have a harder time claiming victory in the general election, where he'll face Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth.

"We reject the politics of fear and division that have no place in Illinois. We're Americans. We believe in this country. And we are going to lead through strength and not fear," Duckworth told supporters Tuesday evening.

Duckworth easily bested state senator Napoleon Harris and a former Chicago prosecutor, Andrea Zopp, to win Democrats' nod.

The Kirk/Duckworth matchup is expected to be one of closet-watched, most expensive races in the nation, as Republicans and Democrats vie for control of the U.S. Senate.

Story source: Illinois Public Radio