CHICAGO (AP) — Faced with a choice between a 10-term congressman and a freshman, Illinois voters opted for the newcomer in a heated Republican primary battle, while in a separate race one of the state’s veteran Democrats easily won the biggest re-election fight of his 17-year congressional career.
In an incumbent versus incumbent GOP clash that was forced by redistricting, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who was among the five Illinois freshmen elected in 2010 during a tea party-backed Republican surge, won the nomination Tuesday with a double-digit victory over U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo.
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. won his Democratic primary over former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson.
Kinzinger, a former Air Force pilot who still serves in Air National Guard, had received a late endorsement from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. Because no Democrat was on the ballot, Kinzinger is almost certainly headed back to Washington.
“Voters want to put that faith in the new generation of conservative leaders,” he said.
Manzullo, who waited to concede until 99 percent of the votes were counted, complained about the tone of the attack ad campaign against him.
“We’re not used to a Chicago-style campaign against us,” Manzullo said. “We’re just not used to that.”
Jackson, who first won office in 1995, faced a grueling primary with strong Democratic competition for the first time in Halvorson, who served one term but lost her re-election bid to Kinzinger in 2010 in another district. She made Jackson’s ethical troubles — a pending House Ethics Committee investigation over alleged ties to ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich — part of her campaign.
But the son of the Chicago civil rights leader coasted to victory, taking more than 7 of every 10 votes cast in the primary.
“I had to take it very seriously,” Jackson told The Associated Press. “I never take an opponent lightly. She put up a very, very strong challenge.”
The state’s primary election — closely watched by both Republicans and Democrats — was the first test of its new congressional map, based on new census data and drawn by Illinois Democrats to carve territory in their favor.
Democrats hope to gain as many as five new seats in Illinois come November, pushing them closer to regaining the U.S. House. But Republicans say they’re poised to pick up a seat in the southern half of the state and can successfully defend challenges to the five GOP congressmen.
Republicans will lose at least one congressman because the state lost a congressional seat in the remap — from 19 to 18 — and the incumbent matchup in north-central Illinois.
Kinzinger’s old district was split in the remap and much of it put into Manzullo’s district. The new 16th is one of Illinois’ most conservative pockets, curving from the Wisconsin border to the Indiana line and including farms, far flung Chicago suburbs and manufacturing communities.
Also Tuesday, Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth won a primary contest over former Illinois deputy treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi in Chicago’s suburbs and will run against outspoken Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh in November.
Duckworth, an Army helicopter pilot who lost both her legs in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in 2004, focused her victory speech on Walsh. The tea party candidate has been in the spotlight for criticizing President Barack Obama. Duckworth called him an extreme voice for the district that is one of the most diverse on the congressional map and spans several northwest Chicago suburbs.
Voters also determined the fall matchup for the state’s only open congressional seat, which is being vacated by the retirement of U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, the longest-serving Democrat in the state’s U.S. House delegation. Republican lumber businessman Jason Plummer and Democratic former regional schools superintendent Brad Harriman will be on the November ballot.
Sophia Tareen can be reached at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.