The Illinois governor race remained a cliffhanger Wednesday morning, with Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn narrowly ahead of Republican Bill Brady. Quinn declared victory early Wednesday, but Brady declined to concede.
"I believe we have won," Quinn told supporters.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday morning, Quinn held an 8,000-vote lead (out of more than 3.5 million cast), amounting to 46.5 percent of the vote compare to Brady's 46.2 percent.
President Obama gave Quinn a last-minute boost Tuesday when he called WVON, a Chicago radio station with an African-American audience, to tout the governor.
"I know Pat Quinn," the president said. "He will make good decisions about the budget. If you have someone like Bill Brady in there, he will be making some decisions that have a negative impact on health care, education."
The hard-fought race between the two Irish-American Catholics was negative and nasty. Brady, a state senator, portrayed Quinn as a tax and spend governor; Quinn painted Brady as an extremist on social issues.
Illinois is in near financial ruin, with a record $13 billion deficit, and main issues in the contest were taxes and spending cuts. While Brady rejected any tax increase, Quinn proposed raising the Illinois state income tax from three percent to four percent. Abortion was another hot-button issue. Brady opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest and when the health of a woman is at risk, while Quinn supports abortion rights.
At the final debate on Oct. 28, Quinn hit Brady for never detailing the cuts he wanted to make in the state budget. "Sen. Brady is irresponsible and he's reckless and he's wrong, and that's why people are very suspicious of his plans," Quinn said. "They don't make sense, they're nonsensical."
Brady returned to a theme used in his television commercials -- that Quinn had a chance to turn the state around and could not. "You were Gov. [Rod] Blagojevich's partner for eight years, you can't blame it all on him," Brady said.
Tuesday marked Brady's second trying at winning the governor's mansion in Springfield. He ran in 2006 and badly lost the GOP primary. This year, Brady clinched the Republican nomination by only 193 votes after a primary battle with his main rival, state Sen. Kirk Dillard.
Quinn stepped up to governor on Jan. 29, 2009, after Blagojevich was removed from office by the Illinois State Senate. After a trial this summer, Blagojevich was convicted of lying to federal agents, with a jury deadlocked on other corruption charges, including trying to sell President Obama's former Senate seat. Blagojevich faces a retrial next year.
In 2010, Quinn ran for his first full term and entered the general election campaign after winning a Democratic primary over Comptroller Dan Hynes with 50.4 percent of the vote.
The Feb. 2 primary, however, created a major headache for Quinn and Illinois Democrats. The lieutenant governor runs independently of the governor candidate in the primary and then, under current Illinois law, the two are fused together for the general election.
A political unknown, Scott Cohen, a Chicago pawnbroker, won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, pouring $2 million of his own money into the contest. The day after he won stories surfaced in the Chicago papers that he was an admitted user of anabolic steroids, was allegedly behind on his child support and allegedly put a knife to the throat of a former live-in girlfriend who was a convicted prostitute.
Cohen on the ticket threatened the viability of Quinn and Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias, plus others. By the Sunday after the Tuesday primary, Cohen was pressured by party leaders to give up his lieutenant governor nomination and Quinn eventually recruited Sheila Simon, the daughter of the late Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) to be his running mate. Cohen regrouped and, bankrolled by his own millions, got himself back on the ballot as an independent, this time running for governor.
In the closing days of the campaign, Brady was helped by tea party activists, who had kept a fairly low profile in Illinois, compared to other states. They hosted a rally headlined by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Virginia Gov. Bob McConnell and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. A week before that, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich appeared in southern Illinois with Brady.
Brady, 49, grew up and lives in Bloomington in central Illinois. After attending Illinois Wesleyan University, he joined the family real estate and home construction business. He was a state representative between 1993 and 2001 and was elected a state senator in 2002.
Quinn, 61, graduated from Georgetown University and went on to earn a law degree from Northwestern University. He first made his name in local politics as the architect of a measure to reduce the size of the Illinois House. In 1982, Quinn won his first office on what was then called the Cook County Board of Tax Appeals. He was state treasurer between 1991 and 1995. In 1996, he ran for Senate and was defeated in the primary by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin. He ran for lieutenant governor in 2002 and 2006.
Quinn, a close friend of White House senior adviser David Axelrod, received help from Obama. Besides the radio station call, Obama boosted Quinn and Giannoulias at a rally Saturday in Chicago's Hyde Park community, drawing 35,000.