Republicans are feeling blue

Red wave fails to materialize locally or nationally

Gov. JB Pritzker and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton stand with their families on the stage of the Marriott Marquis hotel in Chicago on Tuesday night after the Associated Press called the Illinois governor's race for the incumbent. Democrats maintained control of every statewide office and supermajorities in the General Assembly.
On a night when Democrats held off a potential “red wave” at the national level, a Springfield Democrat won a seat in Congress and the capital city’s first Black state senator defeated her Republican challenger, despite attack ads calling her a corrupt liar.

Results of the Nov. 8 general election also saw a Democratic challenger flipping a GOP-held seat on the Sangamon County Board for the first time in at least a decade, though Republicans remain in firm control of county government.

Democrats increased their majority on the state Supreme Court and appeared to succeed in their push to pass an amendment to the Illinois Constitution protecting organized labor.

“Illinois Democrats have acquitted themselves pretty darn well this election,” said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at University of Illinois Springfield. “The results of this election show that Illinois isn’t turning Republican anytime soon.”

Despite one poll showing the Republican ahead in the 48th District for state Senate, Springfield Democrat Doris Turner defeated Sandy Hamilton by fewer than 2 percentage points for a four-year term.

Turner had 38,947 votes, or 50.84%, to Hamilton’s 37,654 votes, or 49.15%. Turner, 69, a retired state worker and former Springfield alderwoman and county board member, raised twice as much money as Hamilton, 55, a real-estate agent, in the most expensive General Assembly race this year. Both women were serving in the legislature after being appointed to fill vacancies – Turner in the Senate and Hamilton in the House.

Turner portrayed Hamilton as an anti-abortion puppet of corporate interests, while Hamilton highlighted what she viewed as Turner’s shortcomings when Turner supervised grants in her former post at the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Both candidates said the other was lying or distorting the facts. Turner called the situation “sad,” while Hamilton’s ads said, “You know Doris Turner is lying because her lips are moving.”

Hamilton congratulated Turner on her victory Tuesday night, saying in a statement: “I wish her well moving forward representing central Illinois. … Tonight was what our democracy was founded on. While the results are disappointing for me, it’s time to put the election behind us and find a way for Republicans and Democrats to unite this country and the state to solve the major issues we face.”

The 48th District was redrawn in redistricting by General Assembly Democrats to make it even friendlier to a Democrat. Turner’s votes narrowly exceeded Hamilton’s in the parts of the district in Sangamon and Macon counties, where most of Springfield and Decatur were included. Hamilton beat Turner in the handful of Christian County precincts in the district.

Redfield said he wonders whether Hamilton’s “lying because her lips are moving” ad about Turner may have backfired by reducing the race to a schoolyard brawl.

“It’s just disrespectful of the whole process,” he said.

In the 13th Congressional District race, Democrat Nikki Budzinski of Springfield beat Republican Regan Deering of Decatur. With more than 90% of precincts reporting the morning of Nov. 9, Budzinski was leading 54.7% to Deering’s 45.3%.

The district, which covers parts of central Illinois, including much of Springfield, Decatur, Champaign-Urbana and the Metro East area, was redrawn by Democrats to favor a Democrat.

Budzinski, 45, a labor activist and former staffer in the administrations of Gov. JB Pritzker and President Joe Biden, tweeted after her victory, “It is my greatest honor to have the opportunity to represent the working families and communities of central and southern Illinois.”

Deering, 47, a philanthropist, told her supporters after her defeat: “I know tonight isn’t the outcome that we worked for, prayed for and voted for. We may not have won this election, but we won the hearts and minds of many people in this district who didn’t have a place in politics before. … We stood up for life when many other people were backing away. We showed that you can be a conservative woman and be taken seriously.”

Redfield said Budzinski probably was hurt by a Better Government Association investigation that reported she earned more than $500,000 in consulting and other fees in 10 months.

But he said Budzinski’s campaign was a textbook example of how to reach out to the working-class white people that have abandoned the Democratic Party in many parts of the country.

“Democrats nationally can draw some lessons from her campaign,” Redfield said.

Dianne Barghouti Hardwick, chairwoman of the Sangamon County Republican Central Committee, said the election results were disappointing, especially Hamilton’s defeat.

Deering put up a valiant effort in a district where Democrats selected their voters, Barghouti Hardwick said. “That woman was everywhere in the district and in the state.”

Republicans in many parts of the state were hurt by the top of the ticket, in which Pritzker, the billionaire Democratic incumbent, massively outspent and defeated Republican millionaire farmer Darren Bailey of Xenia, said Barghouti Hardwick.

“The bright spot is that we kept our County Board,” she said.

Marc Ayers, 37, a Springfield resident and Illinois director for the Humane Society of the United States, defeated incumbent Republican Linda Fulgenzi of Leland Grove. Ayers received 2,059 votes, or 55.2%, to Fulgenzi’s 1,667 votes, or 44.7%, in District 12.

Democrats fielded nine candidates to challenge Republican incumbents – the highest number in two decades. Republicans’ majority will change from the current 22-7 to 21-8.

Ayers said he felt “very confident” heading into the election day after campaigning for months against Fulgenzi, who had been on the board since 2007 and never before faced a challenger.

“I had knocked on close to 5,000 doors,” he said. “I knew I put in the legwork. … I was down every street in the district five or six times.”

Even though the other Democratic challengers weren’t successful, the votes they did receive made many want to run again in two or four years, when the incumbents’ terms are up, Ayers said.

About The Author

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:, 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.

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