Democrat Kwame Raoul Wins Illinois Attorney General Race

Kwame Raoul
Democratic State Sen. Kwame Raoul at WBEZ studios Jason Marck/WBEZ
Kwame Raoul
Democratic State Sen. Kwame Raoul at WBEZ studios Jason Marck/WBEZ

Democrat Kwame Raoul Wins Illinois Attorney General Race

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Democratic State Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago will be the next attorney general of Illinois, easily defeating Republican Erika Harold in Tuesday’s election.

In his victory speech, Raoul spoke extensively about his immigrant parents from Haiti, who came to the U.S. in the 1950s.

Of his ancestral homeland, Raoul said, “Donald Trump, it’s not a s---hole,” referring to the president’s alleged comments about Haiti and African countries.

Raoul said Illinois rejects Trump’s hateful comments and the president’s policies. And he also made a reference to defeated Gov. Bruce Rauner’s recent remarks about undocumented immigrants.

“By the way, Bruce Rauner, they’re not the cause of Chicago violence,” Raoul said.

With 92 percent of precincts reporting, Raoul had 54 percent of the vote to Harold’s 43 percent. The Libertarian candidate, Bubba Harsey, garnered 2 percent.

At about 8:30 p.m., Harold conceded to Raoul, who enjoyed huge support in the campaign from the state’s Democratic Party, including wealthy Gov.-elect JB Pritzker.

“We were profoundly outspent,” Harold said in her concession speech.

Shortly after outgoing Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan abruptly announced she wouldn’t seek a fifth term in office, a crowd of Democrats fought for the party nomination ahead of the March primary. Benefiting from a deep donor base, and the name recognition as the guy who replaced Barack Obama in the state legislature, Raoul prevailed.

Like many races in Illinois this cycle, the general election campaign for attorney general was a proxy fight in the larger war between incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and his Democratic nemesis, House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is the current attorney general’s father.

Rauner’s own campaign fund poured more than $1.8 million into Harold’s campaign coffers, and she received another $1.7 million from billionaire Ken Griffin.

Raoul, meanwhile, raked in more than $1.5 million from Speaker Madigan’s political committee and the state Democratic Party, which Michael Madigan controls. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Pritzker kicked in more than $2.9 million for Raoul.

When Raoul takes over the office in January, he will be at the helm of some big investigations Madigan opened in the last two years.

Raoul promised to continue a criminal probe into the Rauner administration’s handling of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks at the Quincy veteran’s home. Lisa Madigan divulged that probe last month, following a yearlong WBEZ investigation.

The state’s next top lawyer likely will also be in charge of helping oversee court-ordered reforms of the Chicago police department. Lisa Madigan sued the City of Chicago to try and force those reforms in backlash from the Laquan McDonald shooting video release.

Despite the big money, debates leading up to the election showed Harold and Raoul appeared to have a lot more in common than their campaign ads suggest.

Both made clear that criminal justice reform, federal oversight of the Chicago police department and a robust consumer protection division should be a priority for the office.

Harold emphasized that she wanted to use the attorney general’s office to target government corruption.

But Raoul’s campaign spent significant resources portraying Harold as social conservative who is too far right for Illinois. TV ads funded by his campaign warned voters that Harold thought gay couples should not be allowed to adopt kids, and that she’d like to roll back key provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Harold said Raoul’s camp distorted her positions on those issues.

Harold’s campaign, meanwhile, stuck with the Republican Party’s overall strategy in this election cycle by running ads that portray Raoul as a loyal soldier of Speaker Madigan. Harold often said that Lisa Madigan didn’t use the full resources at her disposal to combat corruption, patronage, and the pay-to-play culture in Springfield. Raoul cautioned he won’t “go fishing” for those kinds of cases.  

As a state senator, Raoul championed legislation to curb the distribution of guns in Illinois and he helped create the a division within the state’s attorney’s office to help the public get access to government documents.