ROLLING MEADOWS, Ill. (AP) - Illinois Democrats thanked supporters and touted their aggressive ground game Wednesday after a near-sweep of congressional races highlighted by victories over two tea-party freshmen, ousting a seven-term incumbent and finally capturing longtime Republican territory near Chicago.
Democrats won four new districts, hung onto another in a close southern Illinois contest and hoped that provisional ballots in a GOP-friendly district might tilt one more their way. Meanwhile, Republicans took stock of the blow to the party and exiting congressmen mulled new futures.
In the most closely-watched, and at times nasty, matchup, Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth bested first-term tea party Rep. Joe Walsh. Outside groups had pumped in millions for Walsh and both campaigns had spent the last weeks attacking everything from each other's families to grammar in campaign mailers.
Duckworth - like her other newly-elected Democrats - spent the day shaking hands, stopping at businesses and celebrating with supporters. She also joked that she needed to catch up on a couple weeks of laundry.
'There's no earthly way I could have stood up to the kind of money ... and the commercials and the things that were thrown against us and have been successful had you not been there to say, 'No, I know her. She's really not an evil, horrible person,'' Duckworth told supporters at her campaign headquarters.
What Democrats did not mention much in their celebrations on Wednesday was the beneficiary role of new political boundaries drawn by Democrats to favor the party and the coattail effect for President Barack Obama who scored an easy home-state victory en route to re-election.
Republicans said the state's new congressional map - a process Democrats controlled - gave Democrats an unfair advantage by forcing one incumbent battle and pushing other Republicans into unfriendly territory to the party.
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady said it was also a time for the party to do some self-analysis in Illinois and said the GOP would begin amping up for the 2014 governor's race.
'We've got to reevaluate,' he said. 'We're going to end up having to do things substantially differently.'
Walsh, who conceded late Tuesday, said he would help Duckworth transition constituent services. He told reporters Wednesday that he wasn't sure what he would do next but he didn't rule out running for higher office, including governor.
Meanwhile senior Illinois Democrats said they hoped the new faces would be a shift for the congressional delegation, which will go from its first Republican majority in years to a very comfortable Democrat majority.
'We're actually hopeful that the gridlock that everybody talks about and the difficulty of reaching agreement, of compromising, that we will see a diminution of that,' Rep. Danny Davis said. 'I think we will, because some of the group that people would have called tea partiers were not as successful as some people thought they would have been, which means that there becomes I think a greater chance to compromise, to reach agreement.'
Perhaps the most painful and surprising loss for Republicans was Democrat Brad Schneider's election over first-term Republican Rep. Bob Dold. Republicans have held the territory that includes affluent and working-class suburbs north of Chicago for more than three decades, and Dold outraised and outspent Schneider. Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk held the territory for five terms as a congressman.
Schneider - who also credited his 1,000 volunteers for the win - spent Wednesday evening greeting commuter train riders.
Republican Rep. Judy Biggert also lost her seat to Democratic challenger Bill Foster, a former congressman. And in west-central Illinois, Republican Rep. Bobby Schilling, a pizzeria owner, lost to former health-care executive and city council member Cheri Bustos.
Schilling, who won with heavy tea-party support in 2010, said he was looking forward to returning to his family business: Saint Giuseppe's Heavenly Pizza in Moline.
'I always said that the best part of not being a career politician is that I can always go back to my business, and I look forward to getting back to making the best pizza the Quad Cities has to offer,' Schilling said in a statement.
In southern Illinois, former National Guard chief Bill Enyart kept a seat vacated by retiring Rep. Jerry Costello in Democratic hands. He beat lumber executive Jason Plummer over roughly 9 percentage point lead and the Republican finally conceded Wednesday while nodding to the difficulty of the longtime Democratic-leaning territory.
'We are proud of our campaign and the ideas we articulated and hope that Southern Illinoisans can work together to solve the serious problems facing the region,' Plummer said in a statement.
Republicans were counting on one victory as Republican Rodney Davis beat Democrat David Gill in central Illinois. Republican Rep. Tim Johnson announced his retirement earlier this year after winning the primary.
However, Gill, a Bloomington physician, said the election was still too close to concede and wanted to look at the impact of provisional ballots. Davis had a nearly 1,300-vote - or less than 1 percentage point - lead over Gill.
His campaign would 'explore all the legal options available to the campaign to ensure there was a full and fair count of every ballot cast,' the campaign said in a statement.