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Election officials erect a barrier and reassure Illinois State University students  that they will be allowed to vote if they were in line before the polling place in the Bone Student Center in Normal officially closed at 7 p.m. About 1,800 students voted at ISU, coming close to matching past record turnouts.

BLOOMINGTON — If Tuesday's election was a "blue wave," McLean County showed its deeply red roots.

In a midterm election that beat turnout projections and brought Democrats the U.S. House, Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker and a new Illinois Statehouse supermajority, Bloomington-Normal and the surrounding area continued to mostly back Republican candidates, though Democrats made some inroads.

McLean County

McLean County's most bitterly contested race ended up a walk for the Republican incumbent.

Though Democrat Nikita Richards earned endorsements from Pritzker, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and others, local voters stuck with Republican McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent throughout the county, including the city of Bloomington.

Richards even narrowly lost the less-conservative city of Bloomington, 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent. She took many precincts in west and central Bloomington but lost more-affluent areas in the southwest and southeast.

Richards is an employment coordinator for the city.

McLean County Democratic Party Chair Erik Rankin told WGLT he thought the result showed "this county still has some issues with people of color."

"I find that (explanation) very offensive," said Connie Beard, chair of the McLean County Republican Party, adding voters "found a reason not to trust" Richards' campaign practices.

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Several hundred Democrats filled the lobby of the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in Normal during a watch party Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

Democrats made waves on the County Board, however, unseating three Republican incumbents while narrowly losing a seat previously held by a Democrat. They went from five to seven seats on the 20-member board and helped increase the number of women serving from three to seven.

Democrat Sharon Chung, who beat Republican incumbent Ryan Scritchlow for a District 7 seat, posted to Facebook late Tuesday that she's "honored to be the first Asian-American elected official in McLean County."

"I do find it interesting that despite the enormous amount of money in this campaign, Democrats came up with two County Board members and that's it," Beard said. The McLean County Democratic Central Committee spent $44,500 in the last reported quarter, versus $18,100 for its Republican counterpart.

Rankin could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Statewide

Even in a 54 percent to 39 percent drubbing across Illinois, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner won McLean County, and two other GOP candidates who lost statewide took the area by slim margins.

County voters picked not only Rauner — by a five-point margin over Pritzker — but also comptroller candidate Darlene Senger and treasurer candidate Jim Dodge. Each won the county by less than a percentage point and lost by about 20 points statewide.

"Rauner did well in the core central and southern Illinois Republican base," said John Jackson, a visiting professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. "It was over before the first hour because, in spite of the fact there are 87 (counties he won), they're very sparsely populated outside a few like McLean."

Where local voters went Democratic, they did so overwhelmingly, even in conservative areas outside the city of Bloomington. Attorney General-elect Kwame Raoul won the county by 10 points and beat Erika Harold by 500 votes outside the city; Secretary of State Jesse White won both areas easily.

"That's somewhat surprising and probably not true in more than one or two other places," Jackson said of Raoul winning in the county where Pritzker lost. "I was surprised too because Harold is from right next door in Champaign." 

Congress

A notable exception to the red trend in McLean County was in the 13th Congressional District, where Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan of Springfield thrashed Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of Taylorville despite his narrow re-election.

Londrigan beat Davis by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent in McLean County, including nearly identical margins in the city and outside it.

Jackson said he's unsure why areas outside Bloomington didn't go for Davis but added he can offer "a hypothesis without any data."

"Some reasonable number of farmers are really nervous about (President Donald) Trump's tariffs and what they're doing on farm income," he said. "Farmers there may have more skepticism than in southern Illinois."

Democrat Junius Rodriguez of Eureka, meanwhile, finished 10 points behind Republican U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood of Dunlap despite LaHood's nearly 2-to-1 vote margin across the district.

Voter turnout

McLean County voter turnout, including the city of Bloomington, settled Wednesday at 61 percent, well above 2014's 49.2 percent, the most recent federal midterm election.

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Polling place workers register Illinois State University students as the polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in the Bone Student Center in Normal. 

Other Central Illinois counties reported increased turnout from 2014 as well. DeWitt County increased from 45.8 percent to 56.6 percent; Ford, 52.3 percent to 57.3 percent; Livingston, 53.4 percent to 56.5 percent; Logan, 45.9 percent to 55.5 percent; and Tazewell, 51.2 percent to 57.7 percent.

Woodford County turnout fell, from 56.3 percent to 54.3 percent.

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Contact Derek Beigh at (309) 820-3234. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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Normal and McLean County Reporter

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