CHICAGO – U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. easily won the Democratic nomination Tuesday after a heated Illinois primary, but the fate of another longtime congressman was still too early to call, along with the matchup for the state's only open congressional seat and a race to determine which Democrat will face a tea party firebrand.
Jackson and Republican U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo faced the toughest primary battles of their careers, and a new congressional map, which dramatically reshaped partisan territory in Illinois, added to the intensity.
With 80 percent of precincts reporting, Jackson had 71 percent of the votes, while his challenger, former one-term U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, had 20 percent. Halvorson called Jackson to concede.
"I had to take it very seriously," Jackson told The Associated Press Tuesday night. "I never take an opponent lightly. She put up a very, very strong challenge."
Meanwhile, a primary contest in Chicago's suburbs set the stage for who will run against outspoken Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh in November, and another election in the southern half of the state was to determine candidates in the race to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello.
Democrats say they could gain as many as five new seats in Illinois come November, pushing them closer to regaining the U.S. House. But Republicans say they're poised to pick up a seat in the southern half of the state and can successfully defend challenges to the five GOP congressmen who won in 2010 during a Republican surge in Illinois.
Republicans will lose at least one congressman because the state lost a congressional seat in the remap -- from 19 to 18 -- and there's an incumbent matchup in north-central Illinois.
Manzullo, who has served 10 terms, was locked in a tight race with freshman U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a former Air Force pilot who was among the five GOP freshmen elected two years ago.
Kinzinger's old district was split in the remap, which was handled by Democrats and carved out territory in their favor. He decided to run against Manzullo, who is currently serving in the 16th Congressional District. The district is one of Illinois' most conservative pockets, curving from the Wisconsin border to the Indiana line and including farms, far flung Chicago suburbs and manufacturing communities.
No Democrats ran in the Tuesday primary, so the winner will almost certainly head back to Washington.
The primary for Jackson, who first took office in 1995, was the most intense of his career. The son of the civil rights activist mounted an aggressive primary fight with Halvorson as she has made questions about his ethics central to her campaign. While he has denied any wrongdoing, the House Ethics Committee is investigating Jackson's ties to imprisoned ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
However, the issue appeared to resonate little with voters who cited his long experience in the district which extends from neighborhoods on Chicago's South Side, its south suburbs and beyond.
"Jesse Jackson Jr. has been in my community for a long time and I support him," said Oscar Dixon, 63, of Chicago. "He's like a family member... He really delivers for me."
In the southern half of the state, three Democrats and three Republicans were on the ballot in the race to replace Costello, whose tenure is the longest of any Democrat in Illinois' congressional delegation. Costello announced last October that he wouldn't seek another term.
Republicans saw the race as an opportunity to flip the seat into the GOP column in the district that runs from Illinois suburbs of St. Louis to the state's southernmost tip.
Another heated primary is under way in Chicago's northwest suburbs where Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth and former Illinois deputy treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi are squaring off. The winner faces Walsh, who has been in the spotlight for criticizing President Barack Obama.