GRAND BOULEVARD — The showdown between 5th District state representative incumbent Ken Dunkin and challenger Juliana Stratton, a closely-watched race because of who was backing the candidates, turned into a blowout Tuesday as Stratton stormed to victory.
Stratton, who declared victory around 9 p.m. Tuesday, was backed by President Barack Obama, even getting TV and radio commercials featuring the president, a rarity for a state representative's race.
But it was more than just a single race. It represented a showdown between Republican Bruce Rauner, whom Dunkin helped with several votes, and Democratic Speaker Mike Madigan, who threw his considerable power behind Stratton to get rid of Dunkin.
With more than 74 percent of precincts reporting, Stratton had 68 percent of the vote to Dunkin's 32 percent.
Stratton, speaking to supporters, said it was time for the state to come together.
"It's incredibly important that we move this state forward and work collaboratively, work cooperatively," she said. "I know that people are concerned that we still don't have a budget. They're concerned that services are being cut. They are concerned that our schools should be adequately funded ... so there are a number of issues that I've heard from the residents of this district that if given the opportunity to serve I hope to represent them well."
"I am lifelong Chicago resident, Bronzeville resident, mother of three, but I'm also someone who cares about my city, my state, and my community, and have a heart for public service, and I hope to bring that same heart to Springfield."
Stratton acknowledged that "Obama's endorsement a tremendous asset to my campaign."
Dunkin said in his concession speech that he looked forward to talking to Stratton and continued to call for more bi-partisanship in Springfield.
"Partisan politics is going to be the death knell for this state," Dunkin said.
He said he was not embittered by the loss and said he felt Obama's endorsement is what tipped the scales for Stratton.
Dunkin estimated more than $4 million was spent on the campaign between him and Stratton.
"The money spent on this House race was as perplexing for me as it was to those on the outside," Dunkin said. "This was a gubernatorial race in terms of what was spent."
He denied that bucking Madigan had cost the Democrats any key votes in Springfield or that doing so had attracted conservative funders to his campaign.
"This was people looking at me historically and wanting to invest in me," Dunkin said.
He said he planned to remain active, whether in politics or business, but was focused now on finishing out his term and helping Stratton transition into the role of legislator if she wins the General Election.
The mood was somber at Dunkin's election night part at Norman's Bistro, 1001 E. 43rd St., as early election results came in showing Stratton leading Dunkin.
A buffet sat untouched and the coat rack was empty as the few supporters there watched in the back bar.
Campaign staff were still unsure where Dunkin was or when he would arrive as media outnumbered campaign workers waiting for results in the hotly contested race.
The race for Dunkin's seat was a heated one: early predictions suggested it was likely to be the most expensive House race in state history.
Dunkin was fighting to hold onto the seat he’s held for more than a decade.
The race has been one of the most watched — and likely the most expensive — in this election cycle and has dragged Obama back into local politics.
Dunkin has held the 5th District seat since 2002, but has faced a tough race with Stratton, an attorney and criminal justice policy administrator with Cook County who has been backed by Obama and top Democratic political leaders in the state.
Many leading Democrats have chosen to endorse Stratton after Dunkin missed several votes or voted with Republicans to deny Madigan a super majority to break a partisan stalemate in Springfield.
On the campaign, Dunkin said he is independent of Madigan and voted in the best interests of his constituents, while Stratton said his failure to vote on key issues has hurt his constituents by prolonging the gridlock in Springfield.
Dunkin’s claims to bipartisanship have been challenged by the nation’s top Democrat. Obama chastised Dunkin from the House floor during his February visit to Springfield and weeks later recorded a campaign ad for Stratton, which analysts have said has never happened in an Illinois House race before.
Though final spending numbers won’t be available until after the election, it’s likely the 5th District race will be the most expensive House race in state history.
The amount of money that has poured into to the race is staggering.
Stratton raised $450,000 in a single day on March 8 from the Service Employees International Union, other Democrats and Grosvenor Capital Management CEO Michael Sacks.
Dunkin raised $300,000 on March 4 from the Illinois Opportunity Project, the group run by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Proft.
The media has labeled the contest a proxy war between Madigan and Rauner with Madigan’s grip over the House at stake.
The ferocity of the campaign has also led to some bold allegations, including a claim by Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) that she had video evidence proving Dunkin was paying people in her ward to vote for him.
The race has also been marred by allegations that an anti-Dunkin billboard was defaced by armed men.
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