CHICAGO (AP) — U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, a 10-term Illinois Republican, lost a grueling primary battle to a freshman congressman on Tuesday, as U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. easily won his Democratic nomination and an Iraq war veteran was chosen to face a tea party firebrand in November.
Manzullo and Jackson faced the toughest primary battles of their careers, and a new congressional map, which dramatically reshaped partisan territory in the state, added to the intensity.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Jackson had 71 percent of the votes, while his challenger, former one-term U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, had around 29 percent. Halvorson called Jackson to concede after the intense primary season which featured expensive public relations consultants and attack ads on both sides.
"I had to take it very seriously," Jackson told The Associated Press Tuesday night who said Halvorson made him a better candidate. "I never take an opponent lightly. She put up a very, very strong challenge."
Manzullo conceded late Tuesday to freshmen U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a former Air Force pilot who still serves in Air National Guard. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Kinzinger, had 56 percent of the vote compared with about 44 percent for Manzullo.
Their primary was also one of the most aggressive in Illinois, with both candidates trying to portray themselves as the more conservative candidate. They were forced into a runoff after a new congressional map, drawn by Democrats.
"We're not used to a Chicago-style campaign against us," Manzullo told reporters late Tuesday, referring to attack ads against him. "We're just not used to that."
But Kinzinger, who was endorsed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said that winning the nomination was a sign that Illinois voters wanted new blood in Washington. He was among five GOP congressmen elected in 2010 during a Republican surge.
"Voters want to put that faith in the new generation of conservative leaders," Kinzinger told AP late Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth won a primary contest over former Illinois deputy treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi in Chicago's suburbs and will run against outspoken Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh in November.
Voters also determined the fall match-up for the state's only open congressional seat, which is being vacated by the retirement of U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, the longest-serving Democrat in the state's U.S. House delegation. Republican lumber businessman Jason Plummer and Democratic former regional schools superintendent Brad Harriman will be on the ballot.
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 the incumbent matchup in north-central Illinois.
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 Kinzinger 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."
Duckworth, an Army helicopter pilot who lost both her legs in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in 2004, focused her victory on Walsh. The tea party candidate has been in the spotlight for criticizing President Barack Obama. Duckworth called him an extreme voice for the district which is one of the most diverse on the congressional map and spans several northwest Chicago suburbs.
"I spent my entire adult life in service to this nation and I would be honored to continue that service as a member of Congress," she told supporters at her suburban victory party.
Sophia Tareen can be reached at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen