CHICAGO (AP) — Republicans are aiming to make serious inroads in Democratic-leaning Illinois on Tuesday, pinning their hopes on a bank-busting campaign for governor that features a multimillionaire first-time office-seeker, frustrations with the state's stubborn financial crises and the typical falloff in voter turnout for a midterm election.
Beyond businessman Bruce Rauner's challenge to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, the GOP also is looking to retake several congressional seats it lost to Democrats in 2012 and hold off challenges to the two statewide constitutional offices it controls. The tipping of just one seat in the Illinois House would allow the party to wrest away a veto-proof Democratic supermajority in that chamber, a big help to Rauner if he succeeds.
A Rauner victory would help Republicans complete a near-sweep of Midwest governorships and put them in control of the Illinois Executive Mansion for the first time since 2003.
The wealthy Winnetka venture capitalist has spent more than $25 million of his own money and a total of more than $65 million, attacking Quinn over the state's massive budget problems and a proposal to make permanent an income tax increase that was originally described as temporary. The Chicago Democrat has portrayed himself as a defender of the middle class, promoting an increase in the minimum wage and painting Rauner as a ruthless profiteer who belongs to a $140,000 wine club.
Republicans see the race as a chance to embarrass President Barack Obama and his party. It's also critical for organized labor, which has spent millions to prevent Rauner from trying to cripple government unions the way Gov. Scott Walker did in Wisconsin.
The GOP spent heavily to try to retake at least two congressional seats they lost to Democrats two years ago.
The closest races are a rematch north of Chicago between Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider and former GOP Rep. Bob Dold and another contest in southern Illinois between Democratic Rep. Bill Enyart and Republican state Rep. Mike Bost. Two other races to watch are GOP U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis' defense of a central Illinois seat against former Judge Ann Callis and former GOP U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling's attempt to take back a seat in northwest Illinois he lost in 2012 to Democratic U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos.
Dick Durbin, the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the U.S. Senate, is facing a longshot challenge from Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis, known around Illinois for the ice cream shops that bear his family name.
The results will probably depend on who shows up.
Democrats have mobilized to lure midterm "fall-off" voters and particularly minorities and young voters. The strategy focused heavily on absentee and early voting, with special emphasis on college campuses. The party deployed an "Obama-style model," using data to identify favorable voters. Last spring, the Democrat-controlled Legislature extended early voting and gave the OK to same-day voter registration.
Republicans also organized better get-out-the-vote efforts. They've recruited more election judges and vowed to make a coordinated effort to challenge questionable ballots on Election Day.
Early voting totals showed a significant uptick this year. About 500,000 Illinoisans voted early, compared with almost 383,000 during the last gubernatorial election in 2010, Rupert Borgsmiller, executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections, said Monday.
Almost 328,500 absentee ballots were requested this year, up from 240,700 in 2010, Borgsmiller said.
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On defense, the GOP is trying to hold onto two constitutional offices, comptroller and treasurer.
Incumbent Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, a former three-term treasurer and governor candidate, is fighting a challenge by Lieutenant Gov. Sheila Simon, a Democrat and the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon. The job of treasurer is up for grabs between former House Republican leader Tom Cross and Democratic state Sen. Michael Frerichs.
Half a dozen competitive races could determine whether Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan maintains his one-vote, veto-proof supermajority in the Illinois House.
The speaker spent liberally from his stockpile of money to protect vulnerable members. Republicans got help from Rauner, who donated millions of dollars to the state party in an effort to weaken the Democrats' hold on the Legislature, making it more friendly to his agenda should he be elected.