A Senate race heavy with symbolism but also important to the national political landscape concluded Tuesday as voters decided who will win the seat once held by President Barack Obama.
The major candidates were Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, an Obama protege burdened by the failure of his family's bank, and Republican Mark Kirk, a congressman and Navy Reservist who made false claims about his military record.
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The polls across Obama's home state closed at 7 p.m., except at a handful of Cook County locations that opened late and were given permission to close an hour late.
A defeat for Giannoulias would be an embarrassing repudiation for the president in his home state. Obama, his wife and top aides have campaigned for Giannoulias in a bid to keep the seat in Democratic hands.
A loss also would weaken Democrats' hold on the Senate by depriving them of a seat in what is supposed to be a Democratic state.
Winnetka voter Barbara Mitchel, 53, said she supports Obama but voted for Kirk.
"My vote for Republicans sends a message to Obama: You're doing a good job, but you've got to do better," she said.
But in Decatur, 48-year-old Corolyn Lowery said Obama needs more help in Washington, not more political opponents.
"I want to make sure we fill Congress with Democrats so they can overrule the Republicans. We need to make sure we have people to back Obama up. Obama's not doing a bad job," Lowery said.
Giannoulias played professional basketball in Greece and became a friend and basketball buddy of Obama's. Encouraged by the future president, he ran for Illinois treasurer and won on the strength of his experience as an executive at his family's Broadway Bank.
Four years later, he set his sights on winning Obama's former Senate seat. But his banking experience worked against him when the bank failed and was taken over by federal regulators. Giannoulias also had to explain -- again and again -- his role in the bank's loans to two people with ties to organized crime and to corrupt political insider Antoin "Tony" Rezko.
He faced Kirk, who looked like the clear favorite with his mix of moderate social views and military experience. Then came the revelation that after long saying he was the Navy's "intelligence officer of the year," Kirk never actually won that award.
It turned out that at various times Kirk also had falsely said he served in the Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, claimed to run the Pentagon war room and said he came under enemy fire on flights over Kosovo and Iraq.
Such misrepresentations weakened Kirk and made the Illinois Senate race one of the nation's closest and most-watched contests.
In addition to the major-party candidates, Green candidate LeAlan Jones and Libertarian Mike Labno also ran.