SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Nov. 8 (UPI) -- Republican incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk, a blue state conservative, became the first to cough up a seat to the Democrats. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, the Democratic nominee, has been named the presumptive winner in Illinois' senate race.
Not long after polls closed in Illinois, NBC, CBS and other networks called the race for Duckworth. Democrats need to turn five seats from red to blue if they are to take back majority control of the U.S. Senate.
"We showed a campaign that respects the voters and is focused on practical solutions rather than shopworn slogans can actually be successful," Duckworth said during her victory speech. "We showed that a relentless focus on rebuilding Illinois' middle class and respecting hard work rather than wealth can be successful too."
Kirk told a gathering of supporters that he called Duckworth to congratulate her on her victory. He also said he extended an invitation to her to the Billy Goat Tavern for a beer.
"This coming beer summit will show kids across Illinois that opponents can peacefully bury the hatchet after a tough election and that what unites us as Americans is much stronger than what divides us," Kirk said.
The results confirm what many political analysts have been saying for weeks. Through most of the election cycle, analysts gave Kirk the dubious distinction of being the most endangered incumbent senator in the country. That's in part because he hails from liberal Illinois and also a reflection of the stiff challenge Duckworth has presented based on her compelling personal story.
She is a veteran of the Iraq war, where she was seriously wounded in combat, losing the use of both her legs and partial use of one arm. She endured a grueling recovery process and entered politics afterward, earning her legitimate status as a female war hero.
Her family also has a compelling story. Her father's side traces its military roots back to the Revolutionary War. Her mother is an immigrant from Thailand. Her parents met while her father was serving overseas.
Duckworth's family history became a source of controversy in the campaign when Kirk made a remark about it during a debate. Duckworth was touting her family's long military history, when Kirk said "I forgot your family came over from Thailand" to fight with George Washington. Democrats pounced, criticizing Kirk for seemingly being unable to grasp Duckworth's biracial heritage.
Kirk later apologized to Duckworth for the comment.