Illinois GOP strikes blow to Democrats' House majority

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CHICAGO (AP) - Gov. Bruce Rauner and fellow Republicans eliminated the Democrats' supermajority in the Illinois House on Election Day, strengthening the governor's chances in the remaining two years of his term to implement a union-weakening, business-friendly agenda that his opponents have resisted amid an historic budget impasse.

Republicans are still the minority party in the Legislature, but with Tuesday's results - GOP gains made with Rauner's financial backing - Democrats don't have the numbers necessary to override him and pass a state budget without backing down. The state hasn't had a budget since July 1, 2015, causing cuts to social service programs across the state and reducing funding for higher education.

The GOP reduced the Democrats' House membership to 67 - still a sizable advantage over the Republicans' 51 but four fewer than what the party needs to overturn gubernatorial vetoes. Republicans knocked off four Democratic incumbents in the House and picked up two seats in the Senate, where Democrats still have a supermajority.

The Republicans' successes came even as Democratic women took the top state ticket races, with Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump and U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth unseating Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk.

Some of the contested races were among the most expensive the state has ever seen, and the wealthy former venture capitalist contributed more than $30 million to party committees and candidates. It forced Democrats to keep up, resulting in nearly a dozen races that surpassed $2 million.

Democrats blamed Rauner's money and Trump's support in conservative Illinois districts for their losses.

"Republicans' millions spent, coupled with the Trump headwind in downstate Illinois, created a difficult environment for many Democratic candidates," House Speaker Michael Madigan said in a statement late Tuesday. He pledged that Democrats will use their majority to "maintain a strong check on Bruce Rauner and his anti-middle class agenda."

Madigan also touted the Democrats' victory in the comptroller's race, where Susana Mendoza ousted Rauner's hand-picked candidate, Leslie Munger.

Rauner, meanwhile, tried to strike a more conciliatory tone.

"For the good of the people of Illinois, let's put the election behind us," he said in a statement Tuesday. "Let's come together and focus on the future and improving the quality of life for every family in our state." He added that lawmakers should work quickly to pass a budget with "with reforms that grow more jobs and protect taxpayers."

The General Assembly returns to Springfield next week for the veto session, though the new balance in the House won't start until January.

During the campaign season, Trump presented a conundrum for some Republicans who tried to balance distancing themselves from him without alienating his supporters in conservative areas. Rauner avoided mentioning Trump's name and condemned many of his comments, but stopped short of saying he wouldn't vote for him.

Trump performed better than Mitt Romney in 2012 in some of the counties where Republicans defeated Democrat incumbents. In the southern Illinois counties of Franklin and Williamson, for example, Trump's margin of victory was better than Romney's by 13.4 percent and nearly 7 percent, respectively. Those counties are in the district that Democratic Rep. John Bradley lost by nearly 6 percentage points.

The other Democratic incumbents who lost were Reps. Mike Smiddy, Kate Cloonen and Andy Skoog - all in counties where Trump outperformed Romney.

But Republicans also did well in urban areas. Rep. Michael McAuliffe, the only GOP legislator in Chicago, was re-elected to a district that included Park Ridge, the suburb where Clinton grew up.

GOP Senate leader Christine Radogno said she hopes Democrats will take their losses as a message from voters to work to pass a budget with Rauner that includes reforms he wants.

"They can choose to use to (their) majorities to block progress or they can choose to engage," Radogno said.

But Rep. Lou Lang, one of the Democrats' House leaders, said it's up to Rauner to drop his demands. In addition to asking for legislation that favors businesses, Rauner has insisted that Democrats consider term limits and change the way legislative districts are drawn - suggestions Democrats say have nothing to do with the budget.

"We've gone a year and a half without a budget," Lang said. "This is all his doing because he has decided to hold his breath until he turns blue and gets what he wants."