Updated: 11:19 p.m.
Rep. Mark Kirk handily won the GOP Senate nomination in Illinois Tuesday night, setting up what is expected to he a highly competitive general election contest with state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) for the seat once held by President Barack Obama.
Kirk cruised to an easy victory over wealthy real estate developer Patrick Hughes, his closest rival in the Republican primary.
Meanwhile, Giannoulias held off the surging campaign of former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman in the Democratic race.
With 93 percent of precincts reporting, Kirk led Hughes 57 percent to 19 percent and the Associated Press had called the race. Giannoulias led Hoffman 39 percent to 34 percent with 93 percent of the vote tallied, while former Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Robinson Jackson was a distant third with 19 percent.
Giannoulious turned his focus immediately to the general election, using his victory speech to call out Kirk as a creature of Washington, D.C., who has been “voting with the special interests.”
“But come November, Congressman, your days as a Washington insider are over,” Giannoulious said.
The November general election matchup between Kirk and Giannoulias is expected to be one of the most competitive races of the cycle. While Illinois is considered a strongly Democratic state, Republicans believe that Kirk’s moderate profile will help them win the same Senate seat that was last held by a Republican from 1999 to 2005.
Turnout was light Tuesday in the metro Chicago area, much of which was covered with snow.
According to election board officials, turnout was estimated at 21 percent to 25 percent. David Orr, the clerk for suburban Cook County, said he doesn’t attribute the low numbers to the weather, which was overcast and snowy all day.
“It doesn’t help, but I don’t think it’s the reason why many people don’t vote,” Orr said. “It’s the reason why we shouldn’t have elections in February.”