Democrats took back the 31st state Senate seat in a seesaw nail-biter Tuesday, as Melinda Bush edged Republican Joe Neal to represent northern and parts of central Lake County.
Both political parties had targeted the open seat in which the candidates combined received more than $1 million in contributions, one of the most expensive senate races in the state.
With all 132 precincts reporting, unofficial totals had Bush taking the seat formerly occupied by Republican Suzi Schmidt with 42,097 votes to 39,945 for Neal. Schmidt bounced Democrat Michael Bond in 2010 but did not run for re-election.
"The early vote did it for us," Bush said. "It was amazing."
Bush, 56, a Lake County Board member from Grayslake, had no opponent in the March primary and had been prepared to run against Schmidt for the four-year seat.
Neal, a civil engineer from Wadsworth, easily won a four-way primary with party backing. This was his first run for public office.
Bush acknowledged that both parties wanted the seat but downplayed the role of party politics.
"What matters to me is I can go down to Springfield and work hard for the people who live here," she said. Pension reform and reducing state debt were priorities, she said.
Bush during the campaign cited her experience on the county board balancing a budget and bringing jobs to the area as part of proven leadership that was needed in Springfield.
The campaign became messy. Neal painted Bush as a tax and spend politician, which Bush said was a distortion.
District 31 includes Zion, Round Lake, Round Lake Beach, Gages Lake, Winthrop Harbor, Old Mill Creek, Wadsworth, Lindenhurst, Antioch, Waukegan, Gurnee, Beach Park, Grayslake and Lake Villa.