CHICAGO --Illinoisans backed Barack Obama in his bid for a historic White House victory Tuesday, and Democrats hoped enthusiasm for the Illinois senator would lift the rest of the ticket. Sen. Dick Durbin, one of Obama's biggest cheerleaders, was another winner. Just days after his daughter died, Durbin defeated Republican physician Steve Sauerberg to earn a third term. Illinois Democrats think Obama's presence atop the ticket will help them pick up congressional seats in traditionally Republican territory and expand their majorities in the state Legislature. Republicans are on the defensive in many races, but they hope any "Obama effect" will be blunted by voter frustration with the Democrats controlling Springfield, particularly unpopular Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Obama picked up 21 electoral votes, out of the 270 he needs to become the nation's first black president, by beating Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Miranda Young, an 18-year-old college student in Chicago, was in the hospital for an ovarian cyst, but said she left the facility to vote for Obama. "I think Obama would produce more change than McCain, and he inspires so many people," she said. Obama reached the national stage just four years ago, when he was elected to the Senate and delivered a star-making speech at the Democratic National Convention. "He doesn't have experience, which some people think is a downfall but I think it is a good thing," said Mike Gigliello, a 25-year-old construction worker from Lombard. "The more time you spend in Washington, the more people are waiting for you to return favors." With 15 percent of precincts reporting, Obama had 422,181 votes, or 59 percent, and McCain had 289,947 votes, or 40 percent. Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, achieved his victory just days after the death of his daughter. Christine Durbin, 40, had a congenital heart condition. "Thank you to the people of Illinois for this vote of confidence," Durbin said in a statement, adding that he appreciates the "outpouring" of sympathy over his family's loss. He was never seriously threatened by Sauerberg, who didn't raise enough money to mount a major campaign. "We may have come up short tonight, but our efforts were not in vain and our work is not done," Sauerberg said in a statement. "Each of us has an obligation ... to continue to fight for the future of Illinois." With 15 percent of precincts reporting, Durbin had 450,160 votes, or 66 percent, and Sauerberg has 213,074 or 31 percent. Illinois, already a solidly Democratic state, could turn an even deeper shade of blue if volunteers excited by this year's election stick with the party and assist in future campaigns. U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, a Republican, was clearly worried. He launched an "Obama Voters for Roskam" Web site that sought to persuade Obama supporters that they should cross party lines to support him, too. It would take a major Democratic surge to unseat Roskam in a solidly Republican suburban Chicago district. Two other congressional races are more closely balanced. In Chicago's northern suburbs, Democrat Dan Seals has gone to great lengths to link himself to Obama as he challenges four-term incumbent Mark Kirk. He has run ads mentioning Obama and has sometimes combined voter outreach efforts with the presidential campaign. And in a district that stretches from Chicago's southern suburbs to Bloomington, the two parties were battling for the seat now held by retiring Rep. Jerry Weller. Neither Democrat Debbie Halvorson nor Republican Marty Ozinga appeared to be the clear front-runner. Halvorson is fighting public impatience with Springfield, where she is majority leader in the state Senate. While Democrats control the House and Senate and hold the governor's office, they have been able to accomplish little due to personality clashes and opposing priorities. In the Legislature, Democrats already hold a "supermajority" in the Senate -- meaning they have enough votes to pass special legislation and overturn vetoes without any help from Republicans. The major question in this election is whether House Democrats will pick up the four seats they need to achieve their own supermajority.
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