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Stratton defeats Dunkin in 5th District House race

Juliana Stratton with her father, Henry Wiggins, after winning the 5th District State Rep. seat from incumbent challenger Ken Dunkin on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Incumbent state Rep. Ken Dunkin on Tuesday paid the price for bucking fellow Democrats on several key votes, falling to newcomer Juliana Stratton in the state House 5th District race.

In a contest that shattered campaign spending records — and even saw President Barack Obama choose sides — Stratton was leading in the Democratic primary 2-1 ratio over the seven-term incumbent.

With 80 percent of precincts reporting, Stratton led with 68 percent to 32 percent.

Stratton included the president among a long list of supporters in her victory speech Tuesday at the Charles A. Hayes Family Investment Center in Bronzeville.

“I know that President Barack Obama is here in spirit,” she said, prompting a surge of cheers from the crowd.

With turnout in the 5th District likely to total about 20,000 votes, the combined $6 million raised by both candidates amounts to about $300 per vote.

The influx of cash showed the battle was not over the 5th District — which comprises a narrow band of Chicago stretching from Greater Grand Crossing to the Near North Side — but the larger struggle between Rauner and Madigan.

Dunkin was deserted by fellow Democrats after twice withholding votes that would have handed Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner defeats in the protracted struggle over the state budget and Rauner’s anti-union Turnaround Agenda.

With Stratton raking in endorsements from unions and Democratic leaders — Obama even recorded ads hyping Stratton — Dunkin was buoyed by $1.3 million donated to his campaign by Rauner-affiliated political action committees and an additional $2.5 million spent by outside groups, including $1 million by the state Chamber of Commerce. Stratton took in $1.8 million, mostly from labor unions.

Madigan wanted to show his caucus there was a price to pay for siding with Rauner, and Rauner poured millions into Dunkin’s campaign. The governor was hoping to show dissident Democrats they could defy the speaker and keep their jobs, said Chris Mooney, director of the Institute for Government and Public Affairs at University of Illinois-Springfield.

“It was a message being sent that both sides are going to do whatever they have to do and they have unlimited money to do it,” Mooney said.

“They’re trying to send the message that you’ve got to stick on your side,” he said.

Stratton, a former aide to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and she is currently the director for the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Public Safety and Justice.

Dunkin has described his controversial votes as principled compromises with the governor, which allowed state money to flow into programs for child care and services for the needy. Madigan and union groups clearly disagreed, flooding mailboxes in the 5th District — including numerous fliers that referenced 20-year-old criminal charges against Dunkin.

“I’ve got a four-inch high stack of mailers on my desk,” said Mooney, a 5th District resident. “I’ve never seen anything like it. When you spend $5 million in a state House race, you’ve got plenty of money for all sorts of ads.”

Dunkin arrived at Norm’s Bistro about 9:30 p.m. and told the small crowd of supporters he had called Stratton and “warmly congratulated her” on her victory.

“I wouldn’t have done anything too much differently,” Dunkin said of the past few months of his political career. “I don’t have any regrets.”