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Both primary races for Illinois governor too close to call

CHICAGO — The races for governor went down to the wire Tuesday night with razor-thin margins separating Gov. Pat Quinn from Comptroller Dan Hynes on the Democratic side and state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady among Republicans.

The closeness of the contests, accentuated by a low voter turnout, meant no one declared victory on either side as trailing candidates pondered seeking an expensive and lengthy recount.

With 98 percent of the state's precincts reporting, Quinn and Hynes each had 50 percent, separated by less than 5,000 votes in a bitter contest for the Democratic governor nomination.

"Tonight we've learned one thing for sure and that is that we are going to continue fighting," Hynes said at his election night party at a downtown union hall as supporters chanted "Let's Go Dan."

"This is a close race. A very, very close race," he added. "There are thousands of ballots that haven't been counted. And whatever the outcome, it's important for Illinois to get this right."

On the Republican side, Brady had 21 percent to 20 percent for Dillard, less than 2,000 votes apart. Former state Republican chairman Andy McKenna had 19 percent, with 98 percent counted.

"The night's not over," said Dillard, of Hinsdale. "We're going to be around for a while."

Brady said his campaign is watching the outcome "very closely."

"It just shows the strength of the grassroots," said Brady from his campaign headquarters at a Bloomington hotel. "We were far outspent on Chicago TV."

McKenna thanked supporters and asked them to hang in with him for the long haul.

"This race is too close to call. It's not going to be resolved any time soon," he said. "The road is not finished. Let's see where we land tomorrow morning."

Regardless of who wins the nominations for the November election, the splits within the Democratic and Republican results reveal the potential weaknesses each party nominee will face heading into the general election campaign.

Quinn, elevated to the state's top job little more than a year ago by the ouster of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, found himself under heavy criticism for indecisive leadership as state government's deficit increased along with a $5 billion backlog of bills.

Hynes found his efforts to display leadership under withering attacks from Quinn, who raised questions about the three-term comptroller's efforts to help Democrats repair from the damage caused by the Blagojevich scandal.

Among Republicans, a nominee with the support of one-in-five primary voters can't declare a mandate and faces a difficult unifying task ahead.

Dillard was criticized heavily for bipartisan assistance he gave to then-Democratic Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign and whether he was adamantly opposed to a tax hike. For his part, Brady has been a staunch central conservative whose views may not mesh in the more moderate suburbs.

Dillard counted heavily on a field organization through battle-tested top advisers such as Greg Baise, the former state transportation secretary who now heads the Illinois Manufacturers' Association. Dillard also counted on gaining downstate support in his endorsement from former Gov. Jim Edgar, whom Dillard worked for as chief of staff.

Brady, the lone downstate candidate, had counted on the plethora of GOP candidates from DuPage County — Dillard, former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan and Adam Andrzejewski — to split the Chicago metropolitan vote with McKenna, who advertised heavily on TV.

The last governor's race to go to a recount was the 1982 general election battle between then-incumbent GOP Gov. Jim Thompson and Democratic challenger Adlai E. Stevenson III. The race was decided in Thompson's favor by 5,074 votes by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Stevenson, ironically, is co-chair of Hynes' current campaign for governor.

The Democratic campaign went from a sleepy contest in which Quinn and Hynes sparred over approaches to the budget to a post-holiday slugfest with scorched-earth TV ads from both sides.

Hynes seized on reports that the Illinois Department of Corrections had launched a budget-cutting program to accelerate the early release of some inmates with short sentences.

Most of the inmates had credit for time they served in county jails before they were convicted, and ended up serving just days or weeks in state custody.

As Quinn blamed his corrections director for not fully informing him of the program's details but refused to fire him, Hynes ran ads attacking Quinn as an inept manager.

Hynes also began to focus heavily on black voters late in the campaign, launching a controversial ad showing 1987 video of the then-Mayor Harold Washington making pointedly negative remarks about Quinn, whom he had fired as city revenue director. Hynes, whose own father had launched a third-party bid to unseat Washington, risked being painted as racially divisive for using the words of the long-dead first black mayor of Chicago.

To counter the ads, Quinn launched his own commercials alleging that Hynes should be held accountable for the Burr Oak Cemetery scandal that unfolded last years when a worker at the historically black graveyard discovered piles of human remains above ground. An criminal investigation has led to charges that Burr Oak officials were moving remains and reselling grave plots.

The comptroller's office has auditing oversight of cemetery finances, but Quinn has alleged that Hynes ignored multiple complaints from people suggesting criminal behavior.

On the Republican side, the unsettled nature of the contest may make for an interesting topic at a scheduled GOP unity breakfast Wednesday morning.

Opposition to tax increases was an important factor to GOP voters, and the contenders often sought to turn the contest into who was a more dedicated tax fighter despite questions of whether a deficit plagued state could get by without more revenue.

McKenna's money and advertising catapulted him into the top tier of candidates, initially by taking on a corrupt Springfield "culture of the hair" in mocking Blagojevich's coiffure. But in the final weeks of the campaign, McKenna's message turned harder onto Dillard and Ryan in questioning the depth of their opposition to tax increases.

Dillard also found himself on the receiving end of McKenna reminders that the Hinsdale state senator appeared in a 2007 Iowa caucus campaign ad attesting to then-Democratic presidential contender Obama's bipartisanship.

To try to counter the onslaught of McKenna advertising, Dillard reached out to disparate political elements to get on the air. He got a $250,000 donation from conservative activist Jack Roeser, who has long complained about teachers' unions and chafed at the moderate rule of the state GOP. And he got $250,000 from the Illinois Education Association.

Those dollars helped Dillard rekindle the Edgar endorsement while attacking McKenna's tenure as chairman of the state GOP, a post McKenna gave up in August saying he had no interest in seeking office. In particular, Dillard hit at McKenna's use of state Republican Party dollars to conduct a poll of potential 2010 candidates that specifically included McKenna.

McKenna later apologized for the poll, but Dillard contended it was an ethical lapse.

As he attempted a political comeback, Ryan sought to hit at McKenna but largely lacked the resources to run a campaign as he did in 2002 against Blagojevich. With campaign appearances limited mainly to public debates and forums, Ryan, an instructor at Benedictine University in Lisle, saw his name-ID driven early frontrunner status in the polls dissipate amid sporadic TV advertising.

Rounding out the field, Ryan had 17 percent, transparency advocate Adam Andrzejewski of Hinsdale had 15 percent and Chicago political consultant Dan Proft had 8 percent. Andrzejewski and Proft spent much of their time battling for support from disaffected voters within the so-called tea party movement

(c) 2010, Chicago Tribune.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.