Democrat Kwame Raoul was victorious Tuesday night in the race for Illinois attorney general, defeating Republican Erika Harold in what had been expected to be the closest of the five statewide contests on the ballot.
Early results, however, told a different story, and at about 8:30 p.m. Harold took the stage at a Champaign hotel ballroom to concede.
“Even though it did not go our way tonight, there are still so many things we were able to accomplish,” Harold told her supporters. “We were able to send such a strong message on what we’d like government in Illinois to look like.”
With 40 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, Raoul had collected 60 percent of the vote to Harold’s 37 percent and 2 percent for Libertarian Bubba Harsy of Du Quoin, according to unofficial results.
The winner will succeed Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has held the post for four terms but decided not to seek re-election.
Raoul is a Hyde Park Democrat who has represented a state Senate district since 2004, when he was appointed to fill the seat being vacated by Barack Obama. The race marks Harold’s second bid for elected office. She was soundly defeated in the 2014 Republican primary for a Downstate congressional seat by incumbent Rodney Davis.
Harold tried to present herself as someone who would be independent of both Republican President Donald Trump’s White House and the governor’s office. Raoul, meanwhile, has said he’d serve as Illinois’ “last line of defense” against Trump’s policies by challenging the White House in court.
In the end, the race was expected to be determined in large part by the strength of anti-Trump headwinds in a deeply Democratic state and whether the highly anticipated “blue wave” materializes to deliver a rash of congressional, governor and state legislative victories to Democrats.
The anti-GOP mood seemed to boost other statewide Democratic candidates, with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner conceding to J.B. Pritzker and state Comptroller Susana Mendoza declaring victory not long after polls closed.
Aside from Pritzker, who gave his campaign a record $171.5 million, Raoul was the only Democrat on the statewide ticket who is not running as an incumbent, and he faced the largest hurdle in building name recognition.
The Hyde Park Democrat spent much of the race differentiating himself from Harold, who he portrayed as out of step with much of Illinois on social issues, attacking her past opposition to gay marriage and continued opposition to abortion rights. Harold labeled Raoul’s campaign ads as “disingenuous,” and insisted that as an opponent of abortion she supported the right of same-sex couples to adopt and that she considered abortion rights and same-sex marriage as “settled law.”
Harold largely focused on Illinois’ history of corruption, saying she would serve as an independent check on government who would investigate wrongdoing. In one of her last commercials, Harold said electing her would protect voters from Speaker Madigan and Democrats’ vise-like grip on Illinois politics if Pritzker were to win the governor’s office.
“Many people want to see a two-party system maintained in Illinois,” Harold said during the campaign’s final days. “And I would be a check.”
As the calendar turned to November, Raoul’s allies privately acknowledged that the contest had become closer than others in the state, though they dismissed the possibility he could lose.
Overall, Raoul out-raised Harold, reeling in more than $14.3 million compared with her $5.4 million.
Illustrating the concern among Democrats of the race tightening in the campaign’s final days, Raoul out-raised Harold by more than 15-to-1 in the last 2 weeks, taking in more than $2.6 million in cash and assistance – including $1 million from Speaker Madigan – compared with just $166,000 for Harold.
In his final TV ad, Raoul noted that Nov. 6 was an “emotional day for me,” noting that 15 years ago it was the day his father died of cancer, and 14 years ago it was the day he was appointed to fill Obama’s state Senate seat. He then held true to the anti-Trump tone that many Democratic campaigns took this fall in noting this year it is Election Day.
“This year, it is the day we vote,” Raoul said. “The day we send Donald Trump a message, that we will fight his attack on our values, our health care, our civil rights and end his vicious assault on our decency and dignity.”