Five things to know about Tuesday's election in Illinois:
1. EARLY VOTING PUSH PAID OFF
Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. for those voters who didn't follow President Barack Obama's lead and vote early this year. Obama made a quick stop in Chicago late last month to cast his ballot, triggering laughs when a poll official asked him for a required photo ID and making him the first sitting president not to vote in-person on Election Day. The high-profile effort to encourage early voting apparently paid off. State officials said approximately 1.2 million Illinoisans voted early or requested absentee ballots this year — about 200,000 more than in 2008.
2. SWEET HOME ILLINOIS?
Obama should easily win his home state and its 20 Electoral College votes. The question this year will be whether voters are less enthusiastic than they were four years ago when the Illinois Democrat ran well in Chicago's Republican-leaning suburbs. More significant is what impact that enthusiasm or lack thereof will have on Democrats hoping to pick up congressional seats there. The chairman of the Chicago Board of Elections predicted turnout in Obama's hometown will be lower than in 2008.
3. DEMOCRATS LOOK TO PICK UP SEATS IN CONGRESS
The biggest prizes in Illinois this year are those U.S. House seats since there's no race for governor or U.S. Senate. With six races considered competitive — thanks largely to new Democrat-drawn maps — Democrats say only California and New York offer more chances as the party tries to pick up seats in the GOP-controlled House. Among the key match-ups are vacated seats in central and southern Illinois and three districts in the Chicago suburbs. Republicans, who have an 11-8 majority in the current congressional delegation, say they like their odds in the closely watched contests.
4. ILLINOIS ODDITIES
True to form, Illinois politics has produced several oddities with this year's vote. In Chicago, Derrick Smith, a former Democratic legislator expelled from the House last spring, could win back his seat despite being indicted on federal bribery charges. Several Democratic leaders — including Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White — backed a third-party candidate. And U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is expected to win back his seat despite barely appearing in public — much less campaigning — since taking a secretive leave in June to be treated for depression and other health problems.
5. DEMOCRATIC MAPS POSE BIG CHALLENGE FOR GOP IN GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Republicans face an uphill battle to make gains in the General Assembly, which is under pressure to address the country's largest state pension crisis, among other issues. Democrats hold the majority in both legislative chambers — 35-24 in the Senate and 64-54 in the House — so the GOP would need to pick up six seats in each chamber to take control. Republicans made some progress two years ago, with help from a national wave of GOP support. This time, though, they are running in districts drawn to help Democrats.
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