It was a huge election night for Republicans across the country. And in Illinois, it was a rebirth of sorts for a state GOP that practically fell into a shallow grave eight years ago.
Republicans in this state scored big wins in federal contests - especially - and made gains in state government. The race for that top office though, governor, remains unsettled. Incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn all but claimed victory. But Republican state Senator Bill Brady is not ready to give up.
Bill Brady got this far in the 2010 election thanks to 193 votes - 193 votes that separated him from his closest competitor in the Republican primary for governor way back in February. And after watching election results for hours Tuesday night showing yet another tight race, Brady came out to chat with his supporters just after midnight.
BRADY: As some of you may have realized by now I have a penchant for close elections.
Out of the more than 3-and-a-half million that were cast in Illinois, Brady trails Quinn by less than 10,000 votes. But Tuesday night in his home town of Bloomington, Brady was talking like a winner.
BRADY: We are excited and optimistic, but we want to make sure every voter in the state of Illinois has a right to have their vote counted. And we're going to make sure that happens. And we're going to make sure that this process is done right.
QUINN: We know there are more votes to be counted, but we're 10,933 ahead...
About 45 minutes after Brady's speech, Quinn jogged on stage at his campaign party in a downtown Chicago hotel.
QUINN: And I'd rather be ahead, than 10,933 behind.
That number has narrowed a bit since, but the Quinn campaign Tuesday night was all smiles.
The governor who came into office after his infamous former running mate was removed, and then endured roughly 21 months of turbulence and controversy, had climbed back into this race. Just a few weeks ago he trailed by double digits in some polls, but he's leading when it counts, with a chance for a full term of his own.
QUINN: I know that there are votes out here, in Cook County, in other counties across the state. And so we want to make sure they're counted, counted fairly. But I think when all is said, we'll end up on top with the most votes, and a majority.
Well, not quite a majority. Whoever wins will still be well short of 50-percent, because of votes that went for third party and independent candidates.
But a victory is a victory, and the next governor - even if it's the old governor - gets the privilege of dealing with what could be a $15-billion budget deficit. That governor must work with a Democratic-controlled state House and Senate. Despite some gains by Republicans, they fell well short of taking control of either chamber.
The GOP did win in some statewide constitutional offices. They've held none for four years, but now they have two. Former Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka returned to the political scene to capture the comptroller's office, and state Senator Dan Rutherford will be the new treasurer, an office left vacant by Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, who had U.S. Senate aspirations.
GIANNOULIAS: Losing is not easy. Losing is not something you expect, which is probably why I didn't write a speech.
Giannoulias lost to Republican Mark Kirk, a five-term member of the U.S. House.
GIANNOULIAS: He made a promise to me that he will never forget who he's fighting for. I think he will make a good senator. I think he will make a strong senator. And - hang on, no, no, hey, no, no - he is our senator and he will help a lot of people.
You can't blame Giannoulias' supporters for their strong opinions. This race was marked by nasty commercials - attacks - including labels like liar, and mob banker. But Kirk also got the post-election memo to be nice, generous even.
KIRK: Alexi and I, during this campaign, we discussed having a beer when this is all over. And so I will give this invitation: Alexi, if you still want that beer, I'll see you tomorrow night at Lower Wacker Drive's Billy Goat Tavern and the first round's on me.
Kirk last night pointed out the difficult recent history of this seat, from its alleged attempted sale by ex-Governor Blagojevich, to the back-and-forth over a special election, to the drama around current U.S. Senator Roland Burris.
KIRK This Senate seat was just returned to its rightful owners, the people of Illinois.
This race was one of those most closely watched in the country. President Obama, the seat's former occupant, campaigned and raised money for Giannoulias in Chicago. But Kirk won, and will hang out in that exclusive capitol club along with veteran U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat who chaired Giannoulias campaign, and offered these thoughts on the 34-year-old's defeat:
DURBIN: If you notice one of the late ads that came out from Mark Kirk's campaign suggested this is a question of maturity. Was he ready? And I think that probably cost Alexi some votes in the end, the question about whether he was mature enough, ready enough for the United States Senate.
But if the Senate race was about personalities and experience, races for the U.S. House in Illinois were about the national mood, the Obama administration and a rejection of Democratic Party rule. At least three Democrats - including Debbie Halvorson from the 11th District, Bill Foster from the 14th and the 17th District's Phil Hare - all lost to their Republican challengers. And each of those challengers won by attacking health care reform and the $787-billion dollar economic stimulus bill.
Meanwhile, one of the few chances nationally Democrats had to pick up a Republican-held seat was Illinois' 10th Congressional District, the one vacated by Mark Kirk. But Dan Seals, a three-time Democratic candidate, still couldn't close the deal. He lost to his Republican opponent, Robert Dold.
DOLD: The national groups from Washington spent literally millions of dollars running a vicious negative campaign on us in attacks. They tried to come into this district and instill fear on each and every one of you, and try to tell you how to vote. They failed.
In fact, outside money was used against both parties' candidates in Illinois. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks this money, outside groups spent more than $11-million on U.S. House races in Illinois alone. And for Republicans, it was money well spent. The GOP now holds a majority in Illinois' congressional delegation.
But in Cook County government, the Democratic Party still rules. As expected, Chicago Alderman Toni Preckwinkle won big in her race for the county board presidency, as did Democratic incumbents running for county clerk, treasurer and sheriff.
And in the one county-wide race where Democrats were expected to suffer, they didn't. Joe Berrios, the party chairman and tax board of review member, easily won the assessor's office, which sets property values that figure into taxes. That despite a fierce challenge from Democrat-turned-independent Forrest Claypool, a county commissioner. And Berrios didn't exactly get good press, called out for everything from his day job as a lobbyist to potentially shady conflicts of interest.
BERRIOS: We were beat up, we were stomped on. You can take every newspaper - major newspaper, they call themselves - here in Chicago, that just tried to beat me up every which way but loose. But you know what, the voters and the taxpayers here in Cook County saw through all that.
Berrios ran proudly as a Democrat, and in this county, that still counts for something.
Also Tuesday, Illinois residents OK'ed an amendment to the state constitution, the 11th time they've done so since 1970. Voters will now be able to recall their governors; boot them from office before their terms are up. Something for our next governor - whoever he may be - to think about, when taking on all those big issues that lie ahead.