Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Illinois Results: Tighter Than Forecast

In Governor, House, Senate on March 19, 2014 at 10:24 am

Primary voters went to the polls in the Land of Lincoln yesterday and the predicted winners performed as expected, but several victory margins were a bit of a surprise.

In the governor’s race, businessman Bruce Rauner, who personally spent lavishly on his own campaign, managed to clinch the Republican nomination but the race proved much closer than polling had indicated. Rauner defeated state Sen. Kirk Dillard, 2010 gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady, and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford by a 40-37-15-7 percent split, respectively, far below what late polling was projecting even though the order of finish was correctly predicted.

Dillard, just as he did four years ago, came on strong at the end and came up just short of placing first. In 2010, he finished only 193 votes statewide behind Brady. Last night, Dillard’s deficit was considerably larger, but he still managed to come within three percentage points of winning the election.

On the Democratic side, vulnerable Gov. Pat Quinn easily became his party’s 2014 standard bearer, yet a full 28 percent of his own party primary voters cast their ballot for a minor candidate. A Quinn-Rauner general election battle promises to be hard-fought and close all the way to November.

In the Senate race, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D) was unopposed for renomination. On the Republican side, state senator and frequent political candidate Jim Oberweis won the nomination, as expected, but again with a closer than predicted margin. Oberweis claimed only 56 percent of the Republican vote against a minor Republican candidate who was virtually non-existent on the campaign trail. Sen. Durbin will coast to a fourth term in November.

In the congressional races, 15 of the state’s 18 incumbents ran unopposed. In what proved to be the closest challenge to a sitting member, former Miss America Erika Harold, enjoying strong Tea Party support, showed some political strength in her Republican primary challenge to freshman Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL-13). Davis was projected the winner with 54 percent of the vote, compared to Harold’s 41 percent, featuring a turnout of just over 50,000 GOP voters. A third candidate captured the remaining four percent.

The 13th District, stretching from Champaign to Bloomington to Decatur to Springfield, promises to be a highly competitive campaign in the fall. Davis had the lowest 2012 win percentage of any House Republican (46.5 percent), illuminating certain political weakness despite his win. Coupled with his closer-than-expected 2014 primary victory, the 13th District has to be viewed as a serious Democratic conversion opportunity.

In the Democratic primary, the party favorite, former Judge Ann Callis, claimed the nomination over college professor George Gollin, but this race, too, was far from a major landslide. With all of the votes counted, Callis won a 54-32-14 percent victory against Gollin and minor candidate David Green. With both candidates scoring 54 percent in their respective primaries, each will need to strengthen their party bases but will have time to do so because, with almost eight full months before Election Day, Illinois has one of the longest general election campaign cycles in the country.

In the surprisingly hotly contested 11th CD, state Rep. Darlene Senger won a tight 38-32-26 percent victory over county Commissioner Chris Balkema and businessman Bert Miller. The latter, a major local manufacturer, was the largest money raiser in the primary campaign, but his financial edge did not help him much in the end. Senger will now face a very uphill general election contest opposite Rep. Bill Foster (D), who was unopposed in his primary campaign last night.

Elsewhere, the other two representatives facing primary challenges each easily won renomination. In Chicago’s 4th District, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) topped 74 percent against two opponents. To the west and south of the city, two-term Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R) took his primary election without suspense, capturing 78 percent of the vote against GOP opponent, David Hale.

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