U.S. President and U.S. Senate
Illinois lived up to its profile as a solidly blue state in national elections by overwhelmingly voting in favor of Hillary Clinton. Buoyed by strong turnout of approximately 70 percent in Cook County (Chicago and suburbs), Clinton won by a 17-point margin.
Riding on her coattails was Tammy Duckworth, who defeated incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk by 14 points. Duckworth, who previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives and as Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, was seen as a strong favorite throughout the contest. Her standing improved in mid-October following debates between the candidates. Sen. Kirk was never able to recover, and Duckworth eased to victory.
While all other statewide offices will appear on the ballot in 2018, an election for State Comptroller was held this year due to the death of the prior incumbent, Judy Baar Topinka (R). This election pitted her appointed replacement, Leslie Munger (R), against former state representative and current Chicago City Clerk, Susanna Mendoza (D). Comptroller Munger was appointed by Gov. Rauner in 2014 and has been an ardent supporter of the Governor and a number of his most controversial reforms. On the other side, Mendoza is a loyal member of the Democratic establishment. The Illinois Speaker cleared the field for her in the primary and dedicated substantial resources into winning this election. Both parties believed this to be a crucial race, which was the focus of statewide media coverage and even saw national attention due to the substantial amounts of money involved in what is typically a very low-profile race.
Due to the state’s deep blue profile in presidential years and the importance that the statewide Democratic establishment placed on this race, Mendoza was probably regarded as a very slight favorite heading into the race. This was an extremely competitive race and was used by both sides as a dry-run for the 2018 gubernatorial race. In the end, Mendoza prevailed by four points. The victory was a relief on an otherwise difficult night for Democrats, though many will undoubtedly express concern as she underperformed Secretary Clinton and Tammy Duckworth by a substantial margin.
State Legislative Races
Democrats currently possess supermajorities in both the House and the Senate, with 71 of 118 seats in the House and 39 of 59 seats in the Senate.
In the House, the Democrats were prepared to lose at least one seat due to the retirement of Rep. Jack Franks in an overwhelmingly Republican district. They were hoping that the presence of Donald Trump on the ballot would limit turnout in some Republican-held suburban districts and result in pick-ups in these districts. While Trump’s presence probably helped stem losses in the suburbs, downstate Illinois continued its trend away from the Democrats and Democrats were unable to pick up any seats in the Chicago suburbs. Democrats managed to pick up only a single seat in the St. Louis suburbs. Otherwise, Democrats lost a number of races, including a significant loss by Rep. John Bradley, the Assistant Majority Leader. When the new House convenes in January, the partisan makeup will be 67 Democrats and 51 Republicans.
In the Senate, the Democrats were prepared to also lose at least one seat due to the retirement of Sen. John Sullivan. His district is a strong Republican district and the Democrats did not even field a candidate to replace him. Their prospects to holding on to their other seats were seen as stronger than in the House, however. For one, they were hoping to benefit from Trump’s lack of support among suburban voters as the most competitive races were in the Chicago suburbs. Second, the Governor focused his spending primarily on the House races. Democrats preserved their super-majority in the Senate, losing only two seats and narrowly winning a competitive election in an incumbent district in Republican-leaning DuPage County.
State Constitutional Amendment
Illinois voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that will require transportation dollars to be used exclusively for transportation purposes. The impact on the state budget is likely to be significant and may result in additional pressure to generate revenue for non-transportation expenditures.
The Illinois General Assembly will reconvene this week for the Fall veto session. The current General Assembly will be in session for two weeks in November and December. The new General Assembly will convene in January 2017.