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Illinois stands with her – and her, and her and her

By Maryam Saleh

A tumultuous election year wound down in wild but appropriate fashion early Wednesday, with several critical races still too close to call. One thing’s for certain, though: Female candidates came out on top across the state.

As results in the presidential contest rolled in, neither Republican Donald Trump nor Democrat Hillary Clinton had garnered the 270 Electoral College votes needed to claim victory. At the time of this writing, Trump had won 244 electoral votes to Clinton’s 215, according to CNN. Clinton took her home state of Illinois, while Trump picked up a number of key swing states, including Florida, Ohio and North Carolina.

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Students filter out of an election watch party at the University of Chicago. (David Jordan/MEDILL)

Both chambers of the U.S. Congress will remain in Republican hands, as Democrats were unable to win back the Senate majority they lost in 2014, despite predictions to the contrary. One bright spot for the Democrats, however, was Illinois, where U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth defeated Republican incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk in the U.S. Senate race. But Democrats lost key Senate contests in Wisconsin and North Carolina and were trailing in New Hampshire late into the evening. The Democrats needed to capture either five GOP Senate seats, or four seats and the White House, to take control of the chamber.

Duckworth defeated Kirk with 54 percent of the vote, with 97 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday night. The results were unsurprising, as Duckworth consistently led her opponent in the polls throughout the campaign. RealClearPolitics showed her with a 13 percentage-point lead last week.

“I will go to work in the Senate looking to honor the sacrifice and quiet dignity of those Illinoisans facing challenges of their own,” Duckworth said in her victory speech in Chicago. “After all, this nation didn’t give up on me when I was my most vulnerable and needing the most help. I believe in an America that doesn’t give up on anyone who hasn’t given up on themselves.”

The odds were stacked against Kirk, a first-term U.S. Senator, from the outset, as he ran for re-election in a presidential election year in a state that traditionally has a big Democratic turnout. Kirk also struggled to distance himself from Trump, whom he unendorsed in June.

Duckworth, a U.S. congresswoman who represents Illinois’s 8th congressional district, overcame the challenge of running against an incumbent, benefitting from the state’s tendency to elect Democrats. She also had a fundraising advantage over Kirk, raising $15.1 million to his $12.8 million, according to OpenSecrets.org, a nonpartisan group that tracks federal campaign spending.

In the hotly contested 10th Congressional District race, former U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, a Democrat, defeated U.S. Rep. Robert Dold, the incumbent Republican, with 52 percent of the vote. This was the third showdown between the candidates. Schneider defeated Dold in the 2012 race for the congressional seat and was unseated by Dold in 2014. The 10th District includes parts of Lake and Cook counties.

The race was closer than the Congressmen’s previous two races. Entering into Election Day, the Election Projection political tracker predicted a Schneider victory by a mere 1.4 percent margin. Dold raised $5.3 million – about $1 million more than his Democratic opponent, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Voters turned out in record numbers in the Chicago area. The Cook County Clerk’s Office reported that more than 1,030,088 ballots were cast in suburban Cook County, with 1,549 of 1,599 precincts reporting. Cook County Clerk David Orr said 26 percent of the county’s 1.5 million suburban voters voted early this year, a record for the area. In 2012, 70 percent of voted in the same area, casting a total of 1,001,693 ballots.

The results of state and local races were much more in line with pre-election predictions.

Democrat Susana Mendoza emerged as the victor in the race for Illinois state comptroller, an idiosyncratic race in an already highly unusual election year. The race between Mendoza and Republican incumbent Leslie Munger was a contentious proxy war between Republican Gov. Bill Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. The comptroller position is a low-profile job, yet more than $12 million was poured into the race; in contrast, just $1.2 million was spent on the race two years ago, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. Rauner personally made a $1 million donation to Munger’s campaign last week.

Mendoza will inherit an office that currently has a $9.2 billion backlog of unpaid bills, according to the state comptroller’s website.

Illinois has been consumed by Rauner and Madigan’s battle over the state’s economic agenda for two years, as the state struggles with an unprecedented budget crisis. The governor and speaker’s battle played out in competitive General Assembly races as well. Legislative races used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars – this year, 16 of them topped $2 million, including 12 that exceeded $3 million and six that cost more than $4 million, according to news reports.

Madigan’s effort to increase Democratic control across the state was funded by unions and trial lawyers, while Rauner and his wealthy allies personally funded a number of Republican races. The governor and his family spent nearly $46 million on local races, according to news reports.

Cook County voters effectively eliminated the office of the recorder of the deeds in their first chance to jettison an elected office since 1972. They overwhelmingly approved a referendum to transfer the recorder’s duties to the county clerk. When the merger takes place in 2020, it will save the county up to $2 million a year, according to County Clerk David Orr. Orr said most of the savings will come from the consolidation of administrative functions, the Chicago Tribune reported. This year, Recorder of the Deeds Karen Yarbrough ran unopposed for a second term.

Also in Cook County, Democrat Kim Foxx defeated Republican Christopher Pfannkuche in the state’s attorney race. Foxx, who was backed by the Democratic Party and Cook County Board President Tomi Preckwinkle, was long considered the favorite in the race, after defeating Democratic State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in a March primary. Foxx has promised reform in the office’s approach to police misconduct cases, and she has said she would hire special prosecutors to investigate police-involved shootings. Pfannkuche did not receive the support of his party and largely self-funded his campaign, which focused on his three decades of experience as a county prosecutor.

Reactions around Chicago were mixed as results from the presidential election trickled in.

The atmosphere at the Clinton campaign’s watch party in downtown Chicago grew increasingly subdued as the night wore on. Campaign staffers tried to lift attendees’ spirits by giving speeches and encouraging applause for Democratic victories in local elections, but the mood remained gloomy nonetheless.

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Attendees at the Hillary Clinton watch party in Chicago crowd around the bar, watching the TV for live updates. (Christen Gall/MEDILL)

At a watch party at the University of Chicago, students began to contemplate what a Trump presidency could mean. Although there were members of the university’s Young Republican Club at the watch party, a majority of attendees were there rooting for Clinton.

“They said they did not want to come and get mocked,” said Republican student Josh Parks, explaining why few Republicans came to the event.

Emily Moos, who had assumed that Clinton would clinch the presidency early in the evening, was in tears as Trump started making significant gains in the electoral college.

“It’s ridiculous that such a large percentage of our country can believe in [Trump],” she said.

Anya Marchenko said it was unfathomable that so many Americans could support a candidate she described as a “racist” and “misogynist.”

“It is no longer a question of whether you are liberal or conservative, it is a question of ethical responsibility,” she said.

David Jordan and Nora Younkin contributed reporting.

Early voters casted ballots in record numbers across the state. Last Tuesday afternoon, traffic had slowed down at this polling station on Chicago’s W Washington Street. (Christen Gall/Medill)