CHICAGO | The ailing U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. easily won re-election Tuesday despite a months-long medical leave that kept him from campaigning.
Jackson, who first won office in a special election in 1995, wasn't expected to lose, but three little-known and vocal challengers had continually brought up his name and corruption allegations against him.
The Chicago Democrat, who remains under a House Ethics Committee investigation for ties to imprisoned ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, has been on medical leave since June for treatment of bipolar disorder. He remained hospitalized at Minnesota's Mayo Clinic.
Jackson thanked supporters in a statement and said he was waiting for clearance from his doctors before he could "continue to be the progressive fighter" they'd known for years.
"I am humbled and moved by the support shown today, he said in a statement. "I continue to feel better every day and look forward to serving you."
Democrats swept nearly all the hotly contested U.S. House races in Illinois on Tuesday and picked up four new seats, including Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth's victory over outspoken first-term tea party Congressman Joe Walsh.
The party, armed with a new political map drawn last year after the census carved out new territories in their candidates' favor, hoped support for President Barack Obama in his home state would help out down-ballot races.
It appeared they were right. Democrats were able to reverse some of the gains Republicans made in 2010, oust a seven-term incumbent and hold on to a seat Republicans were targeting in southern Illinois.
Democrats fell just short of their goal of gaining five new seats in Illinois as part of an ultimately unsuccessful fight to regain control of the U.S. House. They lost one seat in Republican heavy territory in central Illinois where Republican Rep. Tim Johnson is retiring.
The most anticipated contest was the suburban Chicago matchup between Walsh and Duckworth, who left her Obama administration job to run for Congress. Walsh, whose 2010 win by a slim margin shocked many political experts, ran in the new Democratic-friendly territory to avoid a primary battle with a fellow GOP incumbent.
The race — one of the nastiest in the nation — had attracted millions of dollars in outside money for Walsh, while Duckworth had Democratic establishment support. She lost a previous bid for Congress.
"Together we bring a new attitude to Washington," Duckworth told supporters at a rally. "On my first day, I will remind Congress we are here to serve the people."
Walsh, known for his controversial statements and harsh critique of Obama, acknowledged the difficulty of his race in Illinois.
"You all know me well. I put every bone I've got in this battle," he said. "If you believe in freedom, if you believe in limited government, if you believe in the power of churches and business and individuals and families, this is a tough, tough state to live in."
Also in Chicago's suburbs, longtime Republican Rep. Judy Biggert lost to former one-term Democratic Rep. Bill Foster, and first-term Republican Rep. Bob Dold lost to Democratic businessman Brad Schneider.
In west-central Illinois, Democrat Cheri Bustos defeated freshmen Republican Bobby Schilling, who won in 2010 with heavy tea party support.
Illinois' congressional boundaries had been redrawn by Democrats in their favor during the once-a-decade remap. They controlled the process because they run the state Legislature and the governor's office. The state lost one congressional seat in the remap — from 19 to 18 — as Illinois didn't grow as fast as other states.
The remap forced one Republican incumbent battle in the primary: longtime Rep. Don Manzullo lost to freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who was easily re-elected.
Republicans pointed to the new map in concession speeches Tuesday.
"As we all know, this race wasn't supposed to happen," Biggert said, referring to the map. "For some reason they thought I would shy away ... they were wrong. I made them work for it, and I don't regret that at all."
Foster said Tuesday's wins by Democrats were a nod to the state's political roots.
"It's a return to the normal state of order for Illinois," Foster told The Associated Press.
Bustos, a former journalist and city council member who received an early endorsement from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, said her message resonated with voters.
"The voters understood what we were trying to talk about and what we were talking about on Day One and making sure that we have a member of Congress that's going to work hard for the majority of people," Bustos told The Associated Press.
Republicans did hold on to a seat in Johnson's district. The congressman announced his retirement shortly after the primary, leaving a rare opening in the district that now stretches from Urbana southwest to Springfield and on to the eastern outskirts of St. Louis' Illinois suburbs. Republican Rodney Davis, of Taylorville, a former member of Rep. John Shimkus' staff, bested Bloomington physician David Gill, a Democrat.
Democrats were able to hold on to the seat left by retiring Democratic Rep. Jerry Costello as former Illinois National Guard chief Bill Enyart beat Republican lumber executive Jason Plummer.
"When I got in it, I got in it to win," Enyart told AP. "We had a lot of volunteers throughout the district, there was a tremendous outpouring of support and the polls have been moving steadily in our direction."