Illinois Election Roundup

By Deanna Bellandi

CHICAGO – Taking a little time to relish their Election Day victories, Illinois Democrats promised to get to work Wednesday, one day after thumping Republicans in all statewide races and holding on to a key congressional seat that gave them control of the U.S. House.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who overcame questions about scandal in his administration to trounce Republican Judy Baar Topinka, started his day by thanking voters at a Chicago Transit Authority train stop where his mother once worked.

“I’m just as dedicated as ever and focused as ever to work for the people of Illinois,” Blagojevich said. His plans include wanting to raise the state’s minimum wage again and expanding health care and education programs.

Topinka, a three-term state treasurer who relinquished her post to run for governor, had no public schedule Wednesday. She will continue to serve as treasurer until January when Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, a Chicago banker, is installed in the post.

The Green Party candidate for governor, Carbondale attorney Rich Whitney, was celebrating because he got more than twice the 5 percent of the vote he needed to establish the party in Illinois and make it easier to get on subsequent ballots.

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“One of the things this campaign demonstrated is that even in this day and age, it’s possible to use old-fashioned campaign techniques _ holding meetings, knocking on doors, handing out fliers,” he said. “We in the Green Party have been building up to this.”

Democrats re-elected to the other statewide posts were Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Secretary of State Jesse White and Comptroller Dan Hynes.

On the national front, Democrats have a lot of work to do now that they’ve claimed control of the House and were assured of 50 votes in the 100-member Senate, said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois’ senior Democrat.

Rep. Melissa Bean helped ensure the Democrats gained control by holding on to the seat she took from Phil Crane in 2004 when she upset the longtime Republican who had represented the suburbs northwest of Chicago for more than three decades.

“Simply having the title of majority is not enough, though. We have a responsibility to the people who elected us _ the American people who have entrusted us to have this awesome opportunity to really produce results,” Durbin said.

Bean agreed. She said that includes coming together on a bipartisan strategy for Iraq and dealing with our country’s deficit.

“People are ready for us to step forward,” she said.

Durbin said he believes Democrats must now work to begin talking about a policy that would bring American troops home from Iraq, increase the federal minimum wage, create a national energy policy and take action on the rising cost of health insurance.

One Democrat Durbin had hoped would win on Tuesday was Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth, who lost both her legs in combat. But Duckworth could not overcome Republican Peter Roskam, a conservative state senator from Wheaton, who will replace retiring GOP Rep. Henry Hyde in Washington.

“It broke my heart, because I asked her to do this,” Durbin said of Duckworth.

As for her future, Duckworth still is a member of the Army National Guard and has to finish writing a dissertation for a doctoral degree from Northern Illinois University, said her spokeswoman Christine Glunz.

Durbin said he hopes Duckworth stays in politics.

“She hasn’t made up her mind about her future yet. We talked about some possibilities,” Durbin said. “I hope that she will consider public life, but it’s a very demanding thing.”

Associated Press Writers Ashley Heher and Tara Burghart from Chicago and Jim Suhr in St. Louis contributed to this report.