Cheri Bustos returned the 17th Congressional District back into Democratic hands after a one-term swerve into the red column with her win Tuesday night.
With 88 percent of precincts reporting, the Democratic challenger had 53 percent of the vote over incumbent Republican Bobby Schilling, and the Associated Press had projected her the winner.
Bustos had 130,566 votes (53 percent) to 114,393 (47 percent) for Schilling with 607 of 690 precincts reporting, in unofficial results.
“We won this for the right reasons — to fight for so many people we’ve met along the way,” Bustos said, specifically singling out a worker for Sensata Technologies, a Freeport company that is closing. “Dot Turner, who is here tonight is why we won tonight,” a jubilant Bustos said at the Holiday Inn, Rock Island.
She said she has met people from Pecatonica to Pekin, from Little York to Biggsville, and that volunteers for her campaign made 67,000 calls on Tuesday.
“The pace I’ve set — as your congresswoman, it won’t change,” she said.
She pledged that she would reach across the aisle, pointing out that the district borders others held by Republicans. “People just want to succeed and government can help. It’s not the bad guy.”
Schilling won in the 2010 Republican surge and Democrats sought to wrest the district away from the Republican after he beat two-term incumbent Phil Hare. Hare’s loss put the seat in GOP hands for the first time since 1982. The targeted race drew over $9 million in spending, with most coming from outside interests.
“It was slipping away and now was the time to stop it,” said Doug House, Rock Island County Democratic chairman said. “We organized and worked like we never worked before.
“I didn’t work on Lane Evans’ first campaign, but now I feel like I have,” he said. “This is very fulfilling.”
In a brief news conference after her victory speech, Bustos said that beside the avalanche of phone calls on Election Day, volunteers also made 70,000 phone calls combined on Saturday and Sunday.
Despite a few jeers, Bustos asked for a round of applause for Schilling, 48, from Colona, whose family owns Saint Giuseppe’s Heavenly Pizza in Moline.
Schilling said he called Bustos to offer her all his support and make sure she has all the information needed to take over the district and that he will “always be here to help.”
He told supporters at a party at the Stern Center in Rock Island that when he returns to the lame duck session, Congress needs to keep the Bush tax cuts intact and pass a farm bill.
The 14-county district was redrawn in 2011 to include parts of Rockford and Peoria, strengthening its Democratic base.
The Democrat took advantage of the new district map, working hard in the Rockford area for votes, calling it critical to her campaign.
“They have double digit unemployment in Rockford,” she said. “They need change. They need someone who has a plan and we have one.”
She vowed to have an economic summit within her first 100 days in office.
Bustos, 50, served on the East Moline city council from 2007 to 2011 before resigning to run for Congress. A former Quad-City Times reporter and editor who has spent the past 10 years as a marketing executive at Iowa Health System, she and husband, Gerry, have three grown sons.
Democrat Cheri Bustos defeated incumbent Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill., in Illinois' hotly contested 17th District congressional race, according to Associated Press projections.
With 82 percent of precincts reporting, Bustos 124,763, or 53 percent, to 110,827, 47 percent, late Tuesday.
Bustos win comes after a multi-million dollar television advertising barrage, with most of the money spent by the two parties and a slew of outside groups, making it the most expensive race in Quad-City history.
Bustos, a former hospital executive and journalist, had criticized Schilling on outsourcing and the House Republicans' plans for Medicare.
Republicans had attacked her tenure on the East Moline City Council, where she was an alderwoman before leaving to run for Congress.