Duckworth ousts Kirk with huge margin in Senate contest
In a race that gained national attention, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a wounded war veteran and rising star of the Democratic Party, easily won a hotly contested race with incumbent Mark Kirk for the U.S. Senate seat once was held by President Barack Obama.
The landslide victory came nearly 12 years to the day the Blackhawk helicopter she was flying over Iraq was shot down.
For Kirk, the convincing defeat could signal the poignant end of a lengthy political career that had been on the rise until his 2012 stroke.
For Illinois, It gives control of both U.S. Senate seats to the Democrats.
And for the nation, the outcome transfers one seat from the GOP to the Democrats in the heated competition for control of the Senate.
"I started that day flying high, doing what I loved. I ended it knocked down and laid low -- bleeding, surviving only because my buddies refused to leave me," Duckworth said in claiming victory. Eleven days later, Duckworth said, she woke up alive, weak, but "with a debt I can never repay. I wake up every morning now, trying to be worthy of my crew."
She also thanked Kirk for his service, and described the Highland Park Republican, who returned to the Senate after suffering the stroke, as "an inspiration for people overcoming adversity and living with a disability."
Kirk, in a short concession speech, invited Duckworth to have a beer together later in the week, to begin a new chapter following an often bitter campaign.
"I want to thank everyone who made a contribution in this campaign," Kirk said. "To my friends and my family and staff, you mean the whole world to me. Let's celebrate living in the best country in the world."
Unofficial results with 75 percent of the precincts counted showed Duckworth leading 56 percent to 39 percent of vote.
She led by wide margins in Chicago and suburban Cook County, where Hillary Clinton held a more than 20-percentage-point lead over Donald Trump in the presidential race in those areas.
Kirk's sole signs of strength came in some collar counties and downstate where Trump's performance was stronger and Kirk had strong name recognition from his time in Congress. Early results showed Kirk losing in DuPage, but slightly ahead of Duckworth in Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.
In some downstate counties, Kirk trailed Trump significantly whom he had repudiated during the campaign. Franklin County, for example, turned out 71 percent of voters for Trump, but only 48 percent for Kirk.
Duckworth has represented the 8th Congressional District in the Northwest suburbs for two terms. Senior U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat and Duckworth's political mentor, described her Tuesday evening as "battle-tested."
Kirk, before his election to the Senate in 2010, represented the independent 10th Congressional District along the North Shore for a decade. He was viewed as one of the most independent members in the Senate and before that in the House.
Presidential years typically yield a higher turnout of Democratic voters in Illinois,
Tim Schneider, head of the Illinois GOP, said Republicans long knew the race "was going to be a heavy lift."
Veterans issues became a key sticking point in the race, as both candidates claim they have the experience that makes them uniquely qualified.
Kirk, in recent months, has been criticized for making a number of controversial comments, which Duckworth has said showed him to be "unfit" for office.
In recent days, comments Kirk made about Duckworth's immigrant background and her family's military service prompted the withdrawal of endorsements that Kirk has pointed to as indicators of his independence.