Still too close to call
Two Republican candidates seeking a seat on the Illinois Supreme Court remained locked in a race too close to call following Tuesday’s primary. With 95% of the expected vote in, former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran had a 1.5 percentage point lead over Lake County Circuit Judge Daniel Shanes.
Whoever ultimately prevails will face Democratic primary winner Elizabeth “Liz” Rochford in November to fill the vacant seat left by the retirement of former Chicago Bears kicker Bob Thomas. The 2nd Judicial District has consistently elected Republican justices to the seat since the 1960s, but the Democratic-controlled legislature recently redrew the district boundaries.
Shanes, who was found “highly recommended” for the judicial seat by the Illinois State Bar Association, won endorsements from the Lake County Republican Party, Illinois Senate GOP Leader Dan McConchie and the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police while out-fundraising his three opponents. Citizens for Judicial Fairness, a conservative independent expenditure committee funded primarily by Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, spent more than $170,000 to support his bid.
Curran, also a former federal and local prosecutor, was rated “not recommended” by the bar group, and his election committee had only $10,000 at the end of the last reporting period in late March, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. Citizens for Judicial Fairness spent roughly $50,000 to oppose his run for a seat on the court.
Curran may have benefited from name recognition with 2nd District voters, having served as the Lake County sheriff from 2006 to 2018 as well as unsuccessfully running against U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin in 2020. During that Senate bid, Curran received a shoutout from then-President Donald Trump at an October rally in Wisconsin and snagged nearly 40% of the statewide vote.
Curran said Wednesday that he was “frozen out” by the Republican Party establishment but that his reputation and familiarity with voters resonated at the polls.
“The party decided who they wanted, and the voters decided otherwise,” Curran said.
Curran maintained a slight lead over Shanes as of Wednesday in their home county of Lake as well as in DeKalb, McHenry and Kendall counties, while Shanes garnered more votes in Kane County.
Curran said the other two Republican candidates in the race, 2nd District Appellate Judge Susan Hutchinson and Kane County Circuit Judge John Noverini, had called to congratulate him.
Shanes’ campaign did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Rochford, a Lake County associate judge, won the Democratic primary Tuesday, beating Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and Kane County Circuit Judge René Cruz. Rochford was the only Democratic candidate rated “highly recommended” by the Illinois State Bar Association and led the vote in each of the five counties in the district.
Rochford said she was thrilled with the results and is ready for a tough challenge against whoever ultimately prevails in the Republican primary. She attributed her success with voters to her campaign’s focus on her positive attributes and experience.
“Qualifications matter, and I think that is what resonated with voters,” Rochford said. The stakes will be high in November, she said, when Democrats have the opportunity to elect a Democrat to the 2nd District seat for the first time since the previous electoral maps were drawn in 1964.
Should Shanes concede, Griffin will see yet another primary loss for an Illinois candidate his money went to support this year. Several candidates Griffin bankrolled, most notably Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin in the GOP gubernatorial primary, failed at the polls Tuesday. Griffin recently announced he was moving his hedge fund to Florida.
A second Illinois Supreme Court vacancy will be filled in November in the 3rd Judicial District, where Democratic candidate Mary K. O’Brien, an appellate judge, and sitting Supreme Court Justice Michael J. Burke, a Republican, faced uncontested primaries. Burke was appointed to his seat in the 2nd district, but the redistricting shifted him to the 3rd.
If Republicans win both seats, the state’s highest court would have a Republican majority for the first time in decades.