There were two questions heading into Election Day in Illinois. The first was how far the Democratic wave would overcome traditionally Republican areas. The small tide in the Chicago suburbs swept away at least one and potentially two suburban Republican incumbents in the House. The Dems gained another open seat in Peoria. But Republicans also held on to a number of open seats and even gained one in southern Illinois. The Democratic majorities in both chambers, on the other hand, remain in tact. The second question was how the GOP would rebuild before 2010.
One change is that Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, who suffered a minor stroke in October, told his members Tuesday that he would not seek the leadership position again. We’ll consider who could take his place in another blog. The Senate’s makeup remains the same, with 37 Democrats and 22 Republicans. The Democratic Caucus, however, hasn’t unified to make use of its so-called supermajority in the past two years. The retirement of Senate President Emil Jones Jr. in January will open the door for change there, too.
The House Democratic Caucus increased its majority from 67 to 69 members out of 118. And they could gain one more, pending official results in what turned out to be a barn burner. If the Democrats gain 70 members, they're one member away from the magic number needed to approve major spending, borrowing and other legislation without Republican votes.
Keep an eye out for these official results:
- House 66: GOP Rep. Carolyn Krause is retiring. The race is still too close to call this morning, but Democrat Mark Walker leads Republican Christine Proncho, as of this morning. If Walker is declared the winner, among the dynamics in play was the “Obama factor,” where a record number of Democratic voters cast ballots for President-Elect Barack Obama of Chicago.
- House 85: Rep. Brent Hassert, a Romeoville Republican in Will County and a member of the House Republican’s leadership team, lost to Democrat Emily Klunk-McAsey. The Democratic campaign machine was in the works, with the help of the Obama factor; Hassert was active in gaming and revenue issues.
- House 43: Rep. Ruth Munson, an Elgin Republican, initially appears to have lost to Democrat Keith Farnham. A Green Party candidate, Dane William, got 3 percent of the vote. [UPDATE 5 p.m.: Munson's campaign office confirmed that the representative conceeded to Farnham this afternoon. The office cited the vote: Farnham's 12,589 to Munson's 12,911, a 322 difference. The county clerk will have to count provisional ballots and absentee ballots within 14 days of the election.] Munson currently serves on committees related to business, technology, trade and pensions. The district is vulerable to the Democratic wave. A Democrat took the Senate district from Republicans when former Sen. Steve Rauschenberger retired. And the House district adjacent to Munson’s transferred from Republicans to the Democrats when Rep. Fred Crespo defeated veteran GOP Terry Parke in the last election. The Obama factor was at play.
- House 92: GOP Rep. Aaron Schock ran for Congress and won that seat last night. He will be replaced by Democrat Jehan Gordon, despite some alleged credibility problems released about the candidate during the campaign. Gordon beat out Republican Joan Krupa. Before Schock, the Peoria district historically was Democratic territory.
- Senate 59: Sen. Gary Forby, a Benton Democrat in the southern tip of Illinois. He barely won against Republican Ken Burzynski, the brother of state Sen. Brad Burzynski of Clare. It was the most expensive race for legislature in the state. The Campaign for Political Reform reported that a total of more than $2 million was spent by both sides. Forby fought hard during the electricity rate debate but was the sacrificial lamb in a political move by Senate President Emil Jones Jr. That opened the door for his Republican opponent to say Forby failed to get lower Ameren rates for his constituents.
- Senate 42: Sen. Linda Holmes, an Aurora Democrat, kept her seat. It was another expensive race exceeding $1.5 million, according to the Campaign for Political Reform. Holmes edged out Terri Ann Wintermute of Bolingbrook. Holmes took over the suburban seat when Republican former Sen. Ed Petka retired; Holmes got a lot of financial support from Sen. John Cullerton, one of the Democrats in the running to replace retiring Senate President Jones.
- House 17: Rep. Beth Coulson, a Glenview Republican in northern Cook County, and active voice for human services and environmental issues. She pulled out the win.
- House 46: Rep. Dennis Reboletti barely won in 2006. He took the seat after former Rep. Lee Daniels retired.
- House 48: GOP Rep. Jim Meyer is retiring. Republican Michael Connelly won the race against Democrat Joe Heneghan.
- House 96: GOP Rep. Joe Dunn is retiring from the DuPage and Will County district that includes Naperville. Republican Darlene Senger barely beat out Democrat Diane McGuire in a race where about $1 million was spent.
- Senate 26: GOP Sen. Bill Peterson is retiring from the seat, which represents the northwest suburbs of Chicago in Lake and McHenry counties. Republican Dan Duffey comfortably won against Democrat Bill Gentes.
- House 107: Democratic Rep. Kurt Granberg retired. He'll be replaced by Republican John Cavaletto, who challenged Granberg in a tight race in the last election. Cavaletto defeated Democrat Patti Hahn Tuesday.
Personal story: I have a distinct memory of U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama. When I worked as a health reporter in Decatur, Obama visited a local community college during his first year as a U.S. senator. He met with military veterans and talked about their health care, among other things. After the event, Obama made himself available to a handful of reporters. He answered our questions, and then most of the reporters except me said thanks and walked away. I asked for one more question. He said I could ask as many as I wanted and suggested we walk into a neighboring room so he we could hear each other better. We walked into the next room, and he pulled two folding chairs over for us to sit. Except he turned his chair around so that he straddled the chair and rested his elbows on its back. He stayed until I asked all of my questions. Unfortunately, I don’t remember his exact answers. But what stuck out were his mannerisms and his willingness to answer as many questions as I had. No staffers tried to cut off the conversation and whisk him away to his next appointment.
Some of my fellow reporters haven’t had as good of luck when trying to break through the communications lines of Obama’s presidential campaign. I can only hope that a President Obama would remain as genuine, considerate and open as he was in the that instance.