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First Look

Illinois democratic primaries see spike in voter turnout

More than 1.2 million people voted in Illinois' Democratic primary elections on Tuesday – the highest midterm showing in over a decade. Several long-term Democrats in the state faced fierce competition from relative political newcomers.

Illinois' 3rd Congressional District candidate Marie Newman speaks at an election night rally on March 20, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. Ms. Newman lost her race against seven-term Rep. Dan Lipinski (D) but earned support from several progressive groups and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D) of Vermont.
Kamil Krzaczynski/AP
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Caption
  • Sara Burnett and Sarah Zimmerman
    Associated Press

Democrats turned out for Illinois' primary in higher numbers than the left-leaning state has seen for a midterm election in more than a decade, deciding several hotly contested races and signaling the November election could be even tougher than usual for the GOP.

More than 1.2 million people voted in Tuesday's Democratic primary. That was nearly double the number who cast Republican primary ballots and a roughly 25 percent increase over 2010, the last time Democrats had a competitive gubernatorial primary.

In several districts currently held by Republican congressmen – areas where Democrats have sometimes struggled to field even one candidate – roughly a half dozen Democrats sought the nomination. Many of them were motivated by President Trump's election and his policies.

One of the most conservative Democrats in Congress narrowly won his primary. Voters also picked a likely successor to longtime Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) as well as the winners in primaries for governor, attorney general, and legislative races. Here's a look:

Congress

Seven-term Rep. Dan Lipinski (D) survived a challenge from political newcomer Marie Newman in the 3rd Congressional District. She was backed by progressive groups and lawmakers including Sen. Bernie Sanders (D) of Vermont.

Ms. Newman called Representative Lipinski, who is anti-abortion and voted against the Affordable Care Act, a "full-on Republican" whose positions no longer reflect those of the heavily Democratic district that includes parts of Chicago and its suburbs.

Lipinski called Newman and her supporters a "tea party of the left," and said their intolerance for differing viewpoints within the party could end up hurting Democrats.

Seven Democrats were looking to take on Rep. Peter Roskam (R) for the seat representing the 6th Congressional District. Voters in the suburban Chicago district supported Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016, making it one of Democrats' top pick-up possibilities in November.

"We deserve a representative who will represent us," said candidate Kelly Mazeski.

Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia won the Democratic primary to replace Mr. Gutierrez, a race that included activist Sol Flores and Chicago police officer Richard Gonzalez.

Governor

Billionaire J.B. Pritzker won the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor, defeating five others including Chris Kennedy, nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, and state Sen. Daniel Biss, a self-described "middle-class candidate."

Mr. Pritzker has put roughly $70 million into his campaign as he now turns his attention to the November election.

Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) narrowly escaped a primary challenge from the right. State Rep. Jeanne Ives, a fiscal and social conservative, argued the first-term governor betrayed the party on issues such as immigration and abortion.

A Pritzker/Rauner matchup in the general election was expected to make the contest the most expensive governor's race in US history, with Mr. Rauner already spending freely from his own personal fortune.

Attorney General

State Sen Kwame Raoul declared victory over an eight-Democrat field for attorney general after receiving a concession call from runner-up former Gov. Pat Quinn. Attorney General Lisa Madigan's surprise announcement that she wouldn't seek a fifth term prompted the large group of hopefuls to get into the race.

The state senator said that he will "expand upon" Ms. Madigan's work, adding that he has "big shoes to fill."

Mr. Raoul and Mr. Quinn battled it out through competing campaign ads in the final push of the primary election, accusing each other of conflicts of interest and other inappropriate behavior. Also running were state Rep. Scott Drury, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, former Civilian Office of Police Accountability administrator Sharon Fairley, former Illinois State Board of Education chairman Jesse Ruiz, MSNBC legal contributor Renato Mariotti, and Aaron Goldstein, a member of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's defense team.

Attorney and former Miss America Erika Harold won the Republican nomination, soundly defeating former Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso. Ms. Harold scored contributions from Rauner and backing from the Illinois Republican Party.

She said she is committed to represent "all Illinoisans regardless of political affiliation," promising to be an independent voice that can stand up to political corruption.

Legislature

Deep intra-party divisions also have surfaced in legislative primaries.

A conservative political action committee that once backed Rauner is now supporting challengers to GOP House members who helped Democrats approve an income tax hike to end a state budget stalemate last year. The group also funded a challenge to House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, who didn't vote for the tax increase but attracted conservative anger for his failure to hold his caucus together and stop it. Mr. Durkin won easily.

Chicago state Sen. Ira Silverstein (D) was ousted after a 20-year career. A victims-rights advocate accused state Senator Silverstein of sexual harassment for sending inappropriate messages while they worked on legislation. The legislative inspector general declared there was no sexual harassment but that Silverstein had acted unprofessionally. He lost handily to Ram Villivalam, a union activist.

Longtime Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, a near-constant GOP target, was also an issue in several Democratic primaries.

Cybersecurity

Election officials say Illinois is remaining vigilant against cybersecurity risks after Russian hackers were able to breach the state's voter registration systems in 2016.

State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich says state officials have been working with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to test Illinois' voting registration systems weekly for vulnerabilities.

Mr. Dietrich said he doesn't anticipate any issues with the voting systems themselves, as a hacker would need physical access to the machines.

Russian agents targeted elections systems in 21 states ahead of the 2016 election, according to DHS. In Illinois, hackers accessed 76,000 active voter registration records but were unable to add, change, or delete any data.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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