TAYLORVILLE — Republican Rodney Davis claimed victory in the 13th Congressional District on Tuesday night, but Democratic opponent Betsy Dirksen Londrigan said she was waiting for all the votes to be counted.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, the two were separated by less than a percentage point; Davis had 131,011 votes, while Londrigan registered 129,518, according to The Associated Press.
Davis spoke to supporters around 11:45 p.m. and said he expected to continue to hold the seat, while acknowledging that some votes remained to be counted.
“I want to congratulate my opponent on a well-run race,” Davis said. “This was a hard-fought campaign, and I know everybody on both sides wanted their candidate to win.”
While acknowledging that he was returning to a U.S. House controlled by Democrats, Davis said he hoped to see bipartisanship in Washington, D.C., on issues such as infrastructure and the new Farm Bill.
“We’ve got a lot of work in front of us, and I look forward to working with the officials, both Republican and Democrat, that were elected at all levels,” he said.
Londrigan spoke to supporters shortly after 11 p.m. and said the campaign was still in “wait-and-see mode.”
“The truth is that right now we’re not really sure,” she said, addressing a crowd that broke into “we love Betsy” chants. “We’re waiting on a lot — there’s quite a few votes still out, there are still some counties that early votes are not in yet.”
The race was among the most-watched in the country as both parties poured in funding and brought national attention to the district. Vice President Mike Pence visited Springfield in recent weeks to campaign for Davis, while U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia congressman and Civil Rights icon, came to Decatur to campaign for Londrigan.
Even in the last day of the election, the candidates were touting endorsements from well-known figures: actor Nick Offerman for Londrigan and former Major League Baseball player Jayson Werth for Davis.
Democrats appeared to be on track to win control of the House as of press time. The party picked up the 23 seats it needed to take from the GOP, including several in surburban districts outside of Washington, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago and Denver.
Republicans kept a majority of seats in the Senate, dismantling Democratic hopes for a “blue wave” of opposition to President Donald Trump’s policies.
Throughout the campaign, Davis touted the accomplishments of the Republican Party since Trump was elected in 2016, specifically tax reform and a national unemployment rate just under 4 percent.
Londrigan, a first-time candidate, made health care the focal point of her campaign. She said she was motivated to join the race after Davis voted to support the GOP’s American Health Care Act of 2017, which would have given states the authority to allow insurers to waive certain protections, specifically one that prevents them from charging higher premiums to those with health issues.
Davis repeatedly said the existing health care plan is “broken” and that people are already being priced out of insurance, while the AHCA would have helped to make costs more affordable.
Analysts had predicted a tight contest. A New York Times phone poll of 501 people from Oct. 21-25 gave Davis 46 percent of the vote and Londrigan 41 percent, with a 4 to 6 percent margin of error. Earlier polls had shown Davis ahead of Londrigan anywhere from 1 percentage point to 13 percentage points.
Bruce Pillsbury, Macon County GOP chairman, said early in the night that he was confident Davis would pull out the win. While some polls had shown a close race, Pillsbury cited others that showed a spread as large as 13 points.
“You know it’s a situation where if you’re polling people that are of your persuasion you’re probably going to have favorable polls,” he said. “I just find it very difficult to believe it was that close. Looking at it from my standpoint, we’re pretty confident that Rodney Davis will win.”
The mood at Davis’ watch party at The Pillars Event Center was like a roller-coaster throughout the night. When CNN called the race for Londrigan around 9:30 p.m., attendees were asking how it was possible that Davis could be defeated.
But about an hour later, the mood picked up after Davis took the lead with about three-quarters of the precincts reporting.
Hunter Lentz, a 22-year-old from Hillsboro who volunteered for Davis this election cycle, said it came down to Davis’ ability to find the “sweet red” parts of the district to help him overcome Democrats' enthusiasm in college towns like Champaign-Urbana that went in huge numbers for Londrigan.
“I’m glad he can hang on tonight,” Lentz said. “He seems to always find a way.”
Macon County Democratic Chairman Jim Underwood said earlier Tuesday night that the mood among his party was “upbeat,” with good weather and lots of volunteers through the day.
Underwood was hopeful for a Londrigan win but also for the possibility that the Democrats could retake control of the House.
“I just think it’s so important for the nation,” he said. “I think there needs to be a check and balance. With one party controlling all three branches (of government), there’s no check and balance.”
The race was Davis’ closest since his inaugural run in 2012, when he narrowly defeated Bloomington’s David Gill by just over 1,000 votes. Despite being considered one of the most endangered incumbents in the nation in 2014, Davis cruised to a double-digit victory that year over the Democrats' well-funded candidate, Ann Callis of Edwardsville. He handily won in 2016 over Decatur’s Mark Wicklund, who had little Democratic Party support.