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CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn clung to an extremely thin margin over Republican challenger Bill Brady early Wednesday as voters in the state and around the country tossed Democrats out of office in a GOP wave.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Quinn and the state senator from Bloomington both had 46 percent. Quinn’s lead was just more than 8,300 votes out of more than 3.6 million cast.
He was holding on while at least 10 other Democratic governors were voted out, and Republicans in Illinois claimed the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama along with a majority of the state’s congressional delegation.
Quinn, who ran for a full term of his own after taking over when his former boss Rod Blagojevich was ousted from office, predicted victory early Wednesday even as he acknowledged there were more votes to count.
“I know that there are votes out here in Cook County and other counties across the state, and so we want to make sure they’re counted, counted fairly, but I think when all is said, we’ll end up on top with the most votes, a majority,” he told supporters at a downtown Chicago hotel. Cook County includes the city of Chicago.
In Bloomington, Brady told supporters the race would not be decided until later Wednesday at the earliest.
“We want to make sure every voter in the state of Illinois has a right to have their vote counted and we’re going to make sure that happens,” Brady said, adding that he was “optimistic.”
Illinois law doesn’t require an automatic recount in close races, of which Brady has had two this year. He wasn’t officially declared the Republican nominee until more than a month after the Feb. 2 primary when he beat his challenger by less than 200 votes.
Whoever prevails this time around will have to deal with a state budget deficit that could top $15 billion, and Quinn and Brady have offered far different options for doing so.
Quinn has proposed raising the income tax by one-third – from 3 percent to 4 percent – to generate more money for education. He also promises new budget cuts.
“I like that Pat Quinn isn’t lying about having to raise the taxes,” said Mary Scott, 50, a patient accountant who voted for Quinn in Chicago. “He told us what he has to do to get us there.”
Brady flatly rejects raising taxes and instead has suggested tax breaks to help the state’s economy. He acknowledges the breaks could add as much as $1 billion to the deficit, but contends lost money would be made up when the economy eventually improves.
“I hope Brady gets the state out of the budget hole it is in,” said Linda Gebhardt, 68, a Springfield retiree who worked for the teacher’s retirement system and voted for the Republican. “I have a state pension, and I hope to keep getting it. We’re at the top as far as dysfunctional states go.”
During the campaign, Quinn accused Brady of spewing “nonsense” about the budget and blasted him for not detailing how he would fix the state’s woes. Neither candidate, though, has specified where they would make additional cuts.
Quinn also highlighted the candidates’ differences on social issues. Brady opposes abortion, while Quinn supports a woman’s right to choose. Quinn supports civil unions for gay people and Brady has vowed to veto any legislation that would permit them. Neither man supports gay marriage.
Brady tried to remind voters that Quinn worked for Blagojevich, who was serving his second term when he was arrested on federal corruption charges, then impeached and removed from office by lawmakers in January 2009. Quinn insists he and the former governor had been on the outs long before the arrest, which has led to Blagojevich’s conviction on one count of lying to the FBI. He is awaiting retrial after the jury deadlocked on more serious counts.
About four in five voters said the issue of corruption and ethics in state government was important in their vote, according to preliminary exit polls. Those voters were closely split between Quinn and Brady.
The Republican also made an issue of Quinn’s controversial early-release program that let more than 1,700 inmates, some of them violent, out of prison early to save money.
The Green Party’s Rich Whitney, independent Scott Lee Cohen and Libertarian Lex Green shared 7 percent of the vote with 99 percent of precincts reporting.
Associated Press writer David Mercer in Bloomington contributed to this report.