Confusion the big winner in Ill. primary as governor races produce virtual ties

By Christopher Wills, AP
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Confusion the winner in Ill. governor primaries

CHICAGO — The primary election that was expected to launch a political battle in President Barack Obama’s home state instead left Democrats and Republicans squabbling amongst themselves Wednesday over governor’s races that were virtually tied.

Gov. Pat Quinn claimed victory in the Democratic primary over Comptroller Dan Hynes, despite a margin of less than 1 percent. He got a congratulatory telephone call from Obama on Wednesday.

“It’s time to end the fighting,” Quinn said as he thanked voters at a Chicago train station. “I don’t believe we are benefiting in Illinois, certainly in the Democratic party, by having fighting.”

Hynes has not conceded, but scheduled an “important announcement” about the race on Thursday morning. His campaign did not return repeated messages seeking more information.

On the Republican side, Sen. Bill Brady led by just a few hundred votes over Sen. Kirk Dillard. Dillard said a victory by Brady, a downstate conservative with little support in the Chicago area, would hurt the GOP’s chances of reclaiming the governor’s office.

“If he’s the nominee, he’ll have a much, much more difficult time than me beating Pat Quinn,” Dillard said Wednesday at a Republican “unity” breakfast.

Illinois Republicans hope to capture the governor’s post as well as Obama’s former Senate seat by exploiting Democratic turmoil and scandal, including the arrest and ouster of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. GOP victories in an increasingly Democratic state would be another blow to Obama, already stinging from the Republican victory in a Massachusetts special election for Edward Kennedy’s former Senate seat.

The Senate primary produced no surprises. State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, an Obama friend and former banker, captured the Democratic nomination. Five-term U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk was the Republican pick.

For governor, it was a different story.

One or both of the races could wind up going to a recount. Illinois law doesn’t require recounts in close races, so the candidates would have to decide whether to request one and cover the costs.

Quinn’s lead had widened Wednesday evening to 8,090 votes out of more than 912,000 cast. Brady’s lead in the Republican race was a mere 406 votes out of 765,000.

Quinn is trying to win the governor’s office on his own merits after inheriting it a year ago when Blagojevich was ousted, partly over allegations that he tried to sell Obama’s former Senate seat.

Two months ago, Quinn appeared set to easily win the nomination. But he was weighed down by the baggage of his two campaigns with Blagojevich, his support for a major tax increase and a botched program that granted early release to some violent prison inmates.

The race became a dead heat with Hynes, and the two traded bitter accusations of incompetence and dirty campaign tactics.

Hynes campaign manager Michael Rendina said the nomination could hinge on how many absentee and provisional ballots remain to be counted.

Absentee ballots can trickle in for the next two weeks. In addition, Illinois lets people vote despite questions about their registration status; now officials must decide which of those provisional ballots are valid. In some cases, ballots weren’t automatically recorded and must be counted by hand.

“What’s important now is that everyone take a deep breath and make sure every vote is counted,” Rendina said. “There’s no hurry.”

Quinn stopped short of asking Hynes to concede, saying that’s up to the comptroller. He also said he had no preference on an opponent in November and called Brady and Dillard “nice guys.”

Dillard, who lives in the Chicago suburbs, has positioned himself as a pragmatist who can get things done in an often-paralyzed state Capitol. Brady focuses more on his conservative credentials and absolute opposition to raising taxes to bail out a state government facing the worst budget crisis in its history.

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