For months, state Republicans said they had amassed enough campaign funds to go toe to toe with House Speaker Michael Madigan and the Democrats.
When the results came in Tuesday night, they were right: Republicans picked up four seats in the Illinois House and two seats in the Senate.
Currently, the Democrats hold 71 seats in the House and 39 in the Senate, enough to override a veto from the governor. With the GOP gains, Democrats would lose their House veto-proof majority.
“I think things are trending in our direction and we will walk out with net wins tonight,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, who represents a west suburban district.
“Voters stated clearly that they wish to maintain a wide Democratic majority in the Illinois House of Representatives and maintain a strong check on Bruce Rauner and his anti-middle class agenda,” Madigan said in a written statement.
In the only hotly contested race in the city of Chicago, Republican incumbent Rep. Michael McAuliffe held onto his 20th District seat by defeating Democratic challenger Merry Marwig, 56 percent to 44 percent. Nearly $3 million was spent in the race, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
“It wasn’t a pillow fight with the speaker making me the number one target in the state, and we prevailed,” said McAuliffe, the only Republican member of the Legislature from the city.
Incumbent Democrats fell in four races:
• In the 71st District, Republican Tony McCombie defeated incumbent Mike Smiddy, D-Port Byron, 63 percent to 37 percent with 92 percent of precincts counted.
• In the 76th House district, challenger Jerry Long knocked off Rep. Andy Skoog, D-Peru, 49 percent to 51 percent.
• In the 79th House district, in what’s thought to be the most expensive legislative campaign in the state at $4.5 million, Rep. Kate Cloonen, D-Kankakee, fell to her GOP challenger, attorney Lindsay Parkhurst, 46 percent to 54 percent.
• And in the 117th District, Republican Dave Severin ousted Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, 53 percent to 47 percent.
The Republicans also won the 63rd District seat currently held by Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, who opted not to run again. Republican Steven Reick handily beat Democrat John Bartman, 57 percent to 43 percent.
One Republican incumbent also fell: Dwight Kay of Edwardsville, who lost to Democratic challenger Katie Stuart in the 112th District.
That all added up to a gain of four House seats for the GOP.
On the Senate side, incumbent Gary Forby, D-Benton, was defeated by Republican Dale Fowler in the 59th District, and Republican Jil Tracy ran unopposed for the 47th District seat being vacated by John Sullivan, D-Quincy — a pickup of two Senate seats for the Republicans.
The net result: Though Democrats will retain control of both the House and Senate, they’ll be down to 67 seats in the House, meaning Madigan loses the supermajority allowing his party to override a veto.
Republicans see even this gain as a major win.
All year, Rauner and the GOP vilified Madigan and declared their intention to hack away at the Democrats’ control of the General Assembly, which they say is necessary to implement the governor’s pro-business, anti-union “turnaround” agenda.
Republicans poured millions of dollars into legislative races across the state, thanks to a handful of wealthy donors that started with Rauner and his wife, Diana. The couple personally contributed $17.7 million since March that was largely directed to help House and Senate candidates.
“The money was significant, because for the first time in almost two decades we were able to compete with the Speaker and the Democrats in Illinois,” Durkin said. “We also have an angry public who want meaningful and quick change in the way business has been conducted in Springfield.”
But Democratic supporters said they would keep fighting against Rauner’s agenda, pointing to the rich contributors funding the GOP campaigns.
“Democrats value the voters’ trust and we will continue to protect the middle class and those who don’t have access to billionaires and lobbyists,” Madigan said in his statement.