For the most part, incumbents beat back challengers amid low primary turnout

Bost survives close congressional race against former GOP governor candidate

Mike Knowlton, from DeKalb, casts his ballot Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in the polling place at the DeKalb County Administration Building in Sycamore.

SPRINGFIELD – With only a few exceptions, incumbent officeholders in Illinois cruised to easy victories in primary elections Tuesday that were marked by historically low voter turnout.

Although final numbers won’t be known for several more days, preliminary returns from many of the state’s larger counties showed turnout hovering in the range of 20-25%.

That compares to a statewide average of 47% in 2016, when the White House was an open race, and 28% during the pandemic-impacted primaries in 2020.

That may have been due to the fact that there were few truly competitive races for voters to decide, especially at the top of the ballot. Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican former President Donald Trump had both secured enough delegates to win their respective party nominations a full week before polls even opened in Illinois.

One race that did prove competitive, though, was the 12th Congressional District race in southern Illinois, where incumbent Republican Mike Bost, of Murphysboro, survived a challenge from former state Sen. Darren Bailey, the unsuccessful GOP candidate for governor in 2022.

Bost is a former state legislator who was first elected to Congress in 2014. Bailey had served only one term in the state House and half a term in the state Senate before running for governor.

Both portrayed themselves as pro-Trump Republicans. Although Trump had endorsed Bailey in his bid for governor, he endorsed Bost in the primary.

Bailey conceded the race Tuesday night when unofficial returns showed Bost ahead by about 3 percentage points, with 96% of the votes counted.

Another close congressional race was in the 7th District of Chicago, where longtime incumbent Democrat Danny Davis fended off challenges from Chicago City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin and community organizer Kina Collins among others.

Liriam Mimini (left) shows Li Arellano the latest poll numbers Tuesday, March 19, 2024 for State Senate - 37th district GOP primary. Arellano is running against Chris Bishop and Tim Yager.

Davis, who is 82, was first elected to Congress in 1996. Before that, he served on the Cook County Board of Commissioners and, starting in 1979, the Chicago City Council. Although his challengers argued it was time for a new generation to step into leadership, Davis drew on his support from Gov. JB Pritzker and other established Democrats to win the race with an estimated 53% of the vote.

In state legislative races, two Democratic lawmakers from the Chicago area were ousted by challengers in Tuesday’s primaries.

In the 20th Senate District, Democratic Sen. Natalie Toro was defeated by challenger Graciela Guzman.

Democratic Party officials appointed Toro to that seat to fill a vacancy when the last elected senator, Christina Pacione-Zayas, resigned to take a job in Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration. Toro had backing from Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, but Guzman was endorsed by liberal U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.

And in the 31st District, Rep. Mary Flowers, the longest-serving member of the House who had fallen out of favor with Democratic leaders in recent months, lost her seat to challenger Michael Crawford.

House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, appointed Flowers to his leadership team when he was elected speaker in 2021. But Welch removed her from leadership in 2023 amid allegations that she was abusive to staff. Welch endorsed and raised money for Crawford, who carried roughly 70% of the vote as of Wednesday.

Republican Rep. Blaine Wilhour, of Beecher City, fended off a challenge in the 110th House District from Matthew Hall, of Vandalia, who had the backing of teachers unions and other organized labor groups.

Stephanie Nelson shows her identification to election judges Billy Hardy and Pam Steele at Oregon-Nashua 2 on Tuesday, March 19, 2024 at the Rock River Center in Oregon.

Results were not immediately available, however, in the 102nd House District where another labor-backed candidate, Jim Acklin, of Ogden, was trying to unseat Rep. Adam Niemerg, of Dieterich. That’s because both men were running as write-in candidates after Niemerg was removed from the ballot due to a technical error in his candidate filing and Acklin entered the race after the filing deadline.

In the 88th District of central Illinois, Decatur native Regan Deering, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2022, edged out McLean County Board member Chuck Erickson in the Republican primary. That’s a seat where incumbent Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, is stepping down. No Democrat has entered that race so far.

In a race to replace retiring Sen. Win Stoller in the 37th Senate District, former Dixon Mayor Li Arellano Jr. won a three-way primary against Henry County Board member Tim Yager and Chris Bishop, a former teacher and high school wrestling coach who now works in crop insurance.

In the 53rd Senate District, where incumbent Sen. Tom Bennett, R-Gibson City, is stepping down, Grundy County Board member Chris Balkema came out ahead in a four-way race against Susan Winn Bence, Jesse Faber, and Mark Kirkton.

And in the 58th District in southern Illinois, Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, the only incumbent senator to face a primary challenge, won her race against local attorney Wesley Kash.

In the 1st District Democratic primary for a Cook County seat on the Illinois Supreme Court, incumbent Justice Joy Cunningham defeated challenger Jesse Reyes, an appellate court justice, by a roughly 75-25% margin. Cunningham was appointed to the seat in 2022 to replace retiring Justice Anne Burke.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Peter Hancock - Capitol News Illinois

Peter Hancock covers Illinois news and and politics for Capitol News Illinois