State Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington will take on Gov. Pat Quinn for the Republicans after securing the slimmest of victory margins Friday: 193 votes - in what may be the closest race in state history.
"We need a governor who is going to apply business practices to running state government," Brady said Friday in kicking off a campaign that will focus heavily on his business experience while likely sidestepping his long-crafted image as a strict social conservative.
Runner-up state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale conceded Friday after clinging for a month to the ever-dimming hope that Brady's lead would collapse as votes were double checked. That chance was dashed Friday when the Illinois State Board of Elections certified the final statewide tally from the Feb. 2 primary.
Now, the veteran DuPage County lawmaker and former aide to Gov. Jim Edgar said he would work to promote Brady in the Chicago region, where his opponent did poorly.
Dillard insisted Friday that Brady has a solid chance at ousting Quinn even as he has taken a hard conservative line on social issues like abortion, guns and gay marriage in this Democrat-leaning state.
"The moderates care about job creation," Dillard said, adding "(Brady) will stick to the issues that are most important. That is what is going to make him the next governor of Illinois."
Still, it was just last month that Brady launched a new push for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Brady said Friday he plans to focus on "jobs, jobs, jobs" and "ethics, ethics, ethics." And he reiterated his opposition to Quinn's push to raise taxes to cover a crippling $13 billion budget shortfall that totals nearly half of state spending.
"Governor Quinn is dead wrong on this issue," Brady said at his Friday afternoon news conference.
Brady wants major tax cuts and is calling for across-the-board spending cuts, but it remains unclear exactly how his plan would impact the state services millions rely upon, including prisons, police and health care.
Green Party candidate Rich Whitney of Carbondale is also running for governor on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.
The packed GOP primary saw four candidates come within 3 percentage points of winning in "one of the closest, if not the closest" races in Illinois history, declared Dan White, director of the elections board. But turnout was at a record low of 23 percent, he said Friday.
Of the seven candidates on the Republican ballot, Brady won with 155,527 votes out of 767,485 or slightly more than 20 percent. Yet, his 193-vote win equates to .025 percent of the total vote cast. Brady pulled little support in the Chicago area, but surpassed the other top three contenders by dominating downstate.
Of the other candidates, former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna, who far outspent the field, garnered about 19 percent of the vote while former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan, the best known competitor, landed 17 percent. Political newcomer Adam Andrzejewski of Hinsdale roped in 14.5 percent of the vote.
McKenna spent millions of dollars on TV and radio ads ripping Dillard. The last round targeted him for appearing in a commercial supporting Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential primary.
Asked Friday if he regretted appearing in the brief ad, Dillard again said no. But he took a shot at McKenna, saying the candidate's father donated to Obama on several occasions and he should have brought that up to retaliate.
Dillard did say he wished fewer suburban lawmakers were on the ballot. The suburban vote was heavily split, allowing a candidate like Brady to win with little Chicago area backing. "I was a little disappointed that no one from the state party or the business community ... ever called the four of us into a room to say, 'We ought to sort this through,'" Dillard said.
Walking into Friday's hearing to approve the final tally, Dillard's campaign believed he was about 247 votes behind Brady. Dillard had refused to concede for weeks, saying every last vote should be counted and double checked. But in the end, the numbers just didn't add up.
He said Friday he didn't move for a months-long recount because it would be divisive and undermine Brady's chances to win. Moreover, a recount in Illinois is an expensive and legally challenging proposition.