CHICAGO (AP) — Democrats landed most of the big prizes on the Illinois ballot Tuesday, picking up four congressional seats, including three held by GOP freshmen, on a night President Barack Obama scored an easy home-state victory en route to re-election.
U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, an outspoken tea-party favorite, lost to Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth, in one of the most closely followed races in the country.
Walsh was one of three freshman Republicans ousted on a night seven-term U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert also lost her seat to Democratic challenger Bill Foster.
"It's a return to the normal state of order for Illinois," Foster said.
The party was looking to Illinois, along with California and New York, as its best chances to make significant gains in Congress.
Both sides dumped tens of millions of dollars into the contested House races, but Republicans failed to maintain the same kind of momentum it enjoyed in 2010 when tea party support helped them land five new seats.
The differences this time included Obama's appearance on the ballot and new political maps drawn by a Legislature controlled by Democrats.
Walsh cited the map Tuesday night as one of many obstacles he faced in trying to keep his seat.
"I knew when I got into this race, when I chose this race a year ago, that we were up against a lot," he said. "We were up against a candidate who had a district drawn for her by very powerful people."
Duckworth said Walsh was "gracious" when he called her to concede, but she said her vision as a member of Congress would be far different.
"Together we bring a new attitude to Washington," Duckworth told supporters at a rally. "On my first day, I will remind Congress we are here to serve the people."
Rep. Bobby Schilling, a pizzeria owner, lost to former health-care executive Cheri Bustos, and fellow first-term Rep. Robert Dold fell to Brad Schneider.
In southern Illinois, former National Guard chief Bill Enyart kept a seat vacated by retiring Rep. Jerry Costello in Democratic hands.
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. won another term even though he has been on a leave of absence — and not campaigning — since June to be treated for bipolar disorder and other health problems.
Republicans did score one victory in a close congressional race as Rodney Davis kept the seat in the party's hands against Democrat David Gill in the district that now stretches from Urbana southwest to Decatur and on to the eastern outskirts of St. Louis' Illinois suburbs. Longtime Rep. Tim Johnson abruptly announced his retirement shortly after winning the March primary.
With the new legislative map, all 177 seats in the Illinois General Assembly were on the ballot. That produced some fierce battles, but there was little chance Republicans would pick up enough seats to seize control of the state Senate or House.
Exit polling showed Obama carried every age group and won both men and women. But his support among white voters slipped slightly from 2008, and among white men, most favored Republican Mitt Romney.
The economy was the issue most on voters' minds in a state where the unemployment rate is nearly 9 percent, slightly above the national average.
Randy Yorke, who cast his ballot for Obama, said the president deserves another term.
"I'm much better off now than I was four years ago," said Yorke, 64, a lawyer from the Chicago suburb of Naperville. "The country's better off."
Jim Chmura, 67, of Oak Park, said he struggled with his decision right up until he punched his ticket for Romney, concluding he "could probably break through the gridlock" in Washington more easily to help improve the economy.
"It was not yes this one or yes that one," said Chmura, a semi-retired printing company manager who voted for Obama in 2008. "But I finally decided my biggest concern was the economy."
Some linked their votes for president with their picks for Congress.
Graham McNamee of Schaumburg said he voted for Romney and Walsh — a tea party favorite and fierce Obama critic who was first was elected in 2010 — because "the shifting of political ideals toward socialism scares me."
"We need Romney as president to get back to our democratic roots," said McNamee, 73.
Last week, Obama officially endorsed Walsh's opponent, Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran, along with two other Democratic candidates running in the Chicago suburbs, Brad Schneider and Bill Foster.
Terry Mills, a 37-year-old wire transfer clerk from Hoffman Estates, said she voted for Obama and Duckworth.
"The middle class is most important right now ... (and) Obama knows what is right for the middle class," Mills said. Duckworth, she added, "really has what it takes to get things done. Her views on taxes are excellent."
Democrats retained control of the Illinois Legislature, where arguably the strangest legislative race involved expelled former Rep. Derrick Smith's bid for another term. The Chicago Democrat won his seat back despite being under indictment on federal bribery charges and being the first lawmaker in more than a century to be booted out of the House. Hoping to avoid embarrassment, party leaders were backing third-party candidate Lance Tyson.
Obama spent the day in Chicago and was to deliver a victory speech at his campaign's election-night party at the McCormick Place convention center.
The election season was quieter than usual in Illinois, with no statewide races on the ballot and Obama expected to easily win the state's 20 electoral votes. Yet Cook County Clerk David Orr, who is responsible for overseeing voting in suburban communities around Chicago, described turnout as "robust."
Illinois voters also rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have required a three-fifths vote, instead of a simple majority, for any public body to increase public pension benefits. Some voters found the proposed change confusing.
"It seemed like double talk to me," said Chmura, of Oak Park, who voted against it.
Associated Press writers Sophia Tareen and Michael Tarm contributed to this report.