As the dust settled after Tuesday’s general election in Illinois, Republicans in the state patted themselves on the back after making gains, while high-ranking Democrats pushed back against embattled state party leader Michael Madigan.
“I'm going to give ourselves an A because before Tuesday, the House Republicans were expected to lose up to 11 seats. And right now, we were at a net gain of two,” House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, said during a news conference Wednesday. “We were outspent five-to-one by Speaker Madigan and we still prevailed.”
The overall number of flipped seats could change, however, as some races remained close with hundreds of thousands of mail-in votes still outstanding statewide. In Illinois, any mail ballot postmarked by Election Day will be counted if received by the election authority by Nov. 17. The state board of elections is scheduled to certify final results on Dec. 4.
According to unofficial, preliminary tallies by the Associated Press Friday afternoon, Republican challengers had taken four seats away from Democrats, but Democrats also took out two incumbent Republicans – Grant Wehrli, of Naperville, and Allen Skillicorn, of East Dundee, both of whom issued concessions.
But the GOP also won back some seats in the Chicago suburbs that they lost in the “blue wave” elections of 2018.
In the 45th District in DuPage County, for example, Republican Seth Lewis defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Diane Pappas. And in the 51st District in Lake County, Republican Chris Bos held a wide lead over Democratic Rep. Mary Edly-Allen.
Both Pappas and Edly-Allen were first-term representatives who defeated incumbent Republican lawmakers in 2018.
Meanwhile, in the Illinois suburbs outside St. Louis, known as the Metro East region, Republican Amy Elik defeated two-term incumbent Rep. Monica Bristow, while Republican David Friess defeated first-term Democratic Rep. Nathan Reitz.
Based on those preliminary results, Democrats will still hold a 72-46 majority in the House, just one seat more than a three-fifths super majority.
But in the 68th District in the Rockford area, incumbent Republican John Cabello held a lead of less than 400 votes on Democratic challenger Dave Vella as of Friday in an undecided race.
In the Senate, where Democrats currently hold a 40-19 majority, three races remained extremely close on Friday, but Democrats appeared poised to possibly gain one. In District 25, Democrat Karina Villa held a slight lead over Republican Jeannette Ward in a race to replace Republican Sen. Jim Oberweis, who stepped down this year to run for Congress.
Senate Republicans also elected a new leader for their caucus following the election. Sen. Dan McConchie, of Hawthorn Woods, was picked to replace Sen. Bill Brady, of Bloomington. Brady did not seek another term as minority leader.
Republicans also counted as victories the defeat of Gov. JB Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax constitutional amendment as well as the vote not to retain Democratic Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride.
Throughout the campaign, Durkin said, Republicans were broadcasting one consistent message.
“Lack of trust with state government in Springfield, corruption, has loomed largely throughout the state of Illinois in our message in the suburbs, but also in the Metro East area,” he said.
The success of that message wasn’t lost on a number of top-level Democrats either, and it quickly prompted a number of them to immediately call for replacing the state party’s chairman, House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Madigan has been under fire, even from some members of his own caucus, since July when he was implicated in a bribery scheme involving utility giant Commonwealth Edison, even though he has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing. A special legislative committee has been formed to investigate his role in the scheme to determine whether he should be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including possible removal from office.
Republican groups used that extensively in their advertising campaigns in which they tied Democratic candidates, as well as Justice Kilbride, directly to Madigan.
The first to openly call for Madigan’s replacement after the election was U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who won re-election to a fifth term Tuesday night.
“Well I can tell you, all across our state, and the advertising told the story, we paid a heavy price for the speaker’s chairmanship of the Democratic Party,” Durbin said Wednesday during an interview on WTTW-TV’s “Chicago Tonight” program. “Candidates who had little or no connection with him whatsoever were being tarred as Madigan allies who are behind corruption, and so forth and so on. It was really disconcerting to see the price that we paid on that. I hope he takes that to heart and understands that his presence as chairman of our party has not helped.”
The next day, Gov. JB Pritzker was asked to respond to those comments during his daily COVID-19 briefing.
“Look, I agree with Sen. Durbin that, you know, opponents were able to tap into voters’ concerns about corruption and their lack of trust in government,” Pritzker said. “There are real challenges there.”
Asked specifically whether he agreed with Durbin that the Democratic Party of Illinois needs new leadership, Pritzker replied, “Yes.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth also issued a statement to the State Journal-Register calling for Madigan to step aside both as speaker and party chairman.
Madigan, meanwhile, issued a statement Thursday indicating he has no plans to step aside.
“I am proud of my record electing Democrats who support workers and families and represent the diversity of our state,” he said in the statement. “Together, we have successfully advanced progressive policies that have made Illinois a strong Democratic state with supermajorities in the legislature. Illinois is the anchor in the ‘blue wall’ that has been reconstructed in the Midwest, and I look forward to continuing our fight for working families as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.”
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.