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Democratic leaders: We held onto state House, Senate

(MCT) — Democrats preserved their long-running majorities in the state House and Senate on Tuesday, according to party leaders who said Illinois voters had rewarded their leadership in Springfield.

House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, working from new legislative maps they drew, said they had racked up enough victories to stay in power for at least two more years.

With results still coming in late Tuesday, Cullerton said he “for sure” had at least the bare minimum 30 seats to keep Democrats in the majority in the 59-member Senate and felt good about picking up more seats. Democrats, Cullerton said, have shown during the four years he has run the Senate that they are willing to “take on tough issues.”

House Democrats appeared to be on the way to a majority and potentially picking up more seats, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said, adding the party has been willing to “confront the state’s problems year after year.”

House Republican spokeswoman Vicki Crawford agreed Democrats looked to retain the majority based on the “results we are seeing.”

The early results gave Democrats hope they could improve upon the 64-54 majority in the House and the 35-24 edge in the Senate.

Illinois undergoes a realignment of districts following each Census to adjust to changes in population, but the real exercise is over who can draw legislative districts to best help their political party. Democrats led by Madigan, who doubles as party chairman, had the rare opportunity to rewrite the map with little trouble because they control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.

The result was that more than a dozen sitting Republicans were pitted against each other, forcing primary showdowns, leading some lawmakers to retire and causing some Republicans to fight Democrats this fall in unffamiliar territory.

The biggest war in the House centered on Elmwood Park Republican Rep. Skip Saviano and his opponent, Addison Democrat Kathleen Willis, who drew huge support from Madigan in the close race.

Madigan also tried to stretch his reach into the northwest suburbs, but Republican David McSweeney of Barrington Hills declared victory against Dee Beaubien, an independent whose late husband, Mark, once held the seat as a GOP lawmaker.

Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekritz, under fire for voting for the state income tax hike last year, declared victory over Republican challenger Jonathan Greenberg in the contest between two Northbrook candidates. A Greenberg spokesman conceded.

In the only race between two incumbent state lawmakers, Rep. Carol Sente, D-Vernon Hills, declared victory over Rep. Sidney Mathias, R-Buffalo Grove, who conceded.

In Lake County, Republican Rep. Sandy Cole of Grayslake was trying to survive a strong challenge from Democrat Sam Yingling, the Avon Township supervisor, of Round Lake Beach. Yingling declared victory through a spokesman, but Cole could not immediately be reached.

In the Senate, veteran Republican lawmaker Carole Pankau of Itasca was in a tight battle with Democratic challenger Tom Cullerton, the Villa Park president and distant cousin of the Senate president.

Democratic Sen. Dan Kotowski was also taking heat for supporting a higher income tax in his race against Republican challenger and fellow Park Ridge resident Jim O'Donnell. Kotowski predicted late Tuesday that he would win but O’Donnell had not conceded.

The contest to replace Sen. Suzi Schmidt, the lawmaker whose high-profile marital spat led to her not running again, was coming down to a very close race. Democrat Melinda Bush of Grayslake faced Republican Joe Neal of Wadsworth, whose father once chaired the Lake County GOP.

In a North Shore district, Democrat Julie Morrison, the longtime West Deerfield Township supervisor, declared victory over Republican Arie Friedman, a Highland Park pediatrician. He conceded through a spokesman.

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