Chicago — Rep. Mark Steven Kirk gained the right to try to wrest President Obama's old Senate seat out of Democratic hands Tuesday night, easily winning the GOP primary and the right to face state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who narrowly won the Democratic nomination.
The governor's race was too close to call. The incumbent, Pat Quinn, held a slim lead on the Democratic side, while three Republicans each had about 20% of the vote in the GOP primary.
But the Senate race has drawn the most national attention, especially after Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority last month when Republican Scott Brown won the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts. The GOP hopes that election is a harbinger of large gains in November.
Kirk, 50, tried to appeal to those who believe the Democrats have too much power.
"The people of Illinois now see the arrogance of a one-party state," said Kirk, who had 56% of the vote with 95% of the precincts reporting. "And this election will show we will not surrender to their dangerous cynicism of low expectations. Because we are Americans and we can do anything."
Giannoulias, with 39% of the vote, claimed victory after his nearest rival conceded.
"Tonight the voters of Illinois sent a message loud and clear," he told supporters. "In the midst of this dreadful economic crisis, they wanted a senator who will limit Washington special interests and protect the jobs of everyday Illinois families."
The seat is open because U.S. Sen. Roland W. Burris, who was appointed by indicted former Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, is not running for election. Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell the seat. Burris has denied wrongdoing.