CHICAGO – President Barack Obama won Illinois on Tuesday, though it was too early to determine whether strong support in his home state would carry through to the big prizes of the night: a handful of U.S. House races where Democrats hoped to pick up some of the seats they lost two years ago.
The Associated Press called Obama's victory based on exit polling shortly after polls closed Tuesday.
The economy was the issue most on voters' minds.
Randy Yorke, who cast his ballot for Obama, said his own financial situation has improved since four years ago and that 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."
Tim Kelly, 56, a Springfield Republican and a self-employed software developer, said he voted for Romney because he thinks Obama has not "really led."
Democrats were looking to Illinois to add to their numbers in Congress, eyeing half a dozen races they consider competitive.
The state's Democratic congressional candidates have a big advantage because they're running in districts drawn to help them as much as possible. Illinois congressional and legislative districts were redrawn after the 2010 census to reflect population changes, and the Democratic majority in Springfield controlled the process.
That has created an extra challenge for Republican Reps. Judy Biggert, Robert Dold and Joe Walsh, all of whom live in the Chicago suburbs, and Rep. Bobby Schilling in the Quad-Cities area. New districts also give Democrats a shot at picking up an empty seat in eastern Illinois.
Last week, Obama officially endorsed the three Democratic candidates running in the Chicago suburbs: Tammy Duckworth, Brad Schneider and Bill Foster.
While some of their members, including tea-party Congressman Walsh, are in tight races, Republicans believe they can hold most of the seats and perhaps pick up one in southwestern Illinois where the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Jerry Costello, is retiring.
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is expected to win another term despite taking a leave of absence — and not campaigning — since June to be treated for bipolar disorder and other health problems.
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady predicted the state's financial problems under a Democratic governor and Democrat-controlled General Assembly could cause voters to opt for Republicans in the congressional races.
With the new political 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.
Arguably the strangest legislative race involved former Rep. Derrick Smith's bid for another term. The Chicago Democrat was booted out of the House in August after he was indicted on federal bribery charges, but he remains on the ballot. Hoping to avoid embarrassment, party leaders were backing third-party candidate Lance Tyson.
Obama spent the day in Chicago and was expected to deliver either a victory or concession 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 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 get to decide whether to amend the state constitution. The proposed change — which some voters found confusing — would require a three-fifths vote, instead of a simple majority, for any public body to increase pension benefits.