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Turnout Down As Coronavirus Stalks Illinois Primary

early voting signs in the Sangamon County Complex
NPR Illinois

Despite fear and uncertainty amid a global pandemic, hundreds of thousands of Illinois voters turned out for Tuesday’s primary election. Overall, however, turnout was down significantly compared to the last presidential primary in 2016.

At the top of the ticket, Joe Biden left Bernie Sanders in his dust — winning Illinois by 23 percentage points — at least as of early Wednesday morning.

The only other statewide race is for U.S. Senate, where incumbent Democrat Dick Durbin is seeking a fifth term. He hasn’t had a particularly close race in years, but the chance to take him on drew five Republicans.

The winner was former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran. Like most candidates, he canceled his election night party to keep people from spreading coronavirus disease. Instead, he posted a one-minute video on Facebook.

“I want to thank everyone that voted today, whether you voted for me or not,” he said. “It was an act of bravery, on some level, just to get out to the polling places, knowing that the coronavirus is with us.”

Durbin did not have an opponent in the Democratic primary. He’s in Washington, and issued a statement urging the Senate’s Republican leaders to allow a vote on COVID-19 relief legislation. The package already passed the U.S. House last week.

U.S. House Races

In races for the U.S. House, name recognition carried the day. In the northwest suburbs of Chicago, former state Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Jeanne Ives will challenge freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Casten.

In keeping with social distancing protocols, Ives skipped the election night party and delivered a short victory speech on Facebook: “Today, we held an election. This was a good thing. Gov. Pritzker made the right call by allowing it to go on.”

Meanwhile, farther west, Republican state Sen. and frequent candidate Jim Oberweis won the right to challenge freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood.

Both of those seats — Casten and Underwood — were Democratic pick-ups in 2018’s “blue wave" election, and Republicans are hoping to win them back.

Elsewhere in Chicagoland, Marie Newman defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski on the second try in as many years. The race was seen as a fight over whether the party has room for conservative Democrats — Lipinski opposes abortion rights and voted against the Affordable Care Act — or should turn them out in favor of more progressive candidates.

In central Illinois, Democrats gave Betsy Dirksen Londrigan a second chance to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis. She defeated Stafanie Smith.

And in southern Illinois, Republicans chose Mary Miller to try to hold onto retiring Representative John Shimkus’s seat. Erika Weaver won the Democratic nomination, though the district has long voted solidly Republican.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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