CHICAGO | Democrats landed most of the big prizes on the Illinois ballot Tuesday, picking up at least three congressional seats, including two held by GOP freshmen, on a night President Barack Obama scored an easy home-state victory.
U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, an outspoken tea-party favorite, lost to Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth. Another Republican freshman, pizzeria owner Bobby Schilling, lost to former health-care executive Cheri Bustos. And seven-term U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert lost her seat to Democratic challenger Bill Foster.
In southern Illinois, former National Guard chief Bill Enyart kept a seat vacated by retiring Rep. Jerry Costello in Democratic hands. The other two competitive congressional races were too close to call.
The party was looking to Illinois, along with California and New York, as its best chances to make significant gains in Congress.
Both sides dumped tens of millions of dollars into the contested House races, but Republicans failed to maintain the same kind of momentum it enjoyed in 2010 when tea party support helped them land five new seats.
The differences this time included Obama's appearance on the ballot and new political maps drawn by a Legislature controlled by Democrats.
With the new legislative map, all 177 seats in the Illinois General Assembly were on the ballot. That produced some fierce battles, but there was little chance Republicans would pick up enough seats to seize control of the state Senate or House.
Exit polling showed Obama carried every age group and won both men and women. But his support among white voters slipped slightly from 2008, and among white men, most favored Republican Mitt Romney.
The economy was the issue most on voters' minds in a state where the unemployment rate is nearly 9 percent, slightly above the national average.
Randy Yorke, who cast his ballot for Obama, said the president deserves another term.
"I'm much better off now than I was four years ago," said Yorke, 64, a lawyer from the Chicago suburb of Naperville. "The country's better off."
Jim Chmura, 67, of Oak Park, said he struggled with his decision right up until he punched his ticket for Romney, concluding he "could probably break through the gridlock" in Washington more easily to help improve the economy.
"It was not yes this one or yes that one," said Chmura, a semi-retired printing company manager who voted for Obama in 2008. "But I finally decided my biggest concern was the economy."
There were signs that some were linking their votes for president with their picks for Congress.
Graham McNamee, of Schaumburg, said he voted for Romney and Walsh — a tea party favorite and fierce Obama critic who was first was elected in 2010 — because "the shifting of political ideals toward socialism scares me."
"We need Romney as president to get back to our democratic roots," said McNamee, 73.
Last week, Obama officially endorsed Walsh's opponent, Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran, along with two other Democratic candidates running in the Chicago suburbs, Brad Schneider and Bill Foster.
Terry Mills, a 37-year-old wire transfer clerk from Hoffman Estates, said she voted for Obama and Duckworth.
"The middle class is most important right now ... (and) Obama knows what is right for the middle class," Mills said. Duckworth, she added, "really has what it takes to get things done. Her views on taxes are excellent."
The new political maps also created an extra challenge for Biggert and Robert Dold from the Chicago suburbs, and Schilling in the Quad-Cities area. New districts also give Democrats a shot at picking up an empty seat in eastern Illinois.
Despite some tight races, Republicans believed they could hold most of the seats and perhaps pick up one in southwestern Illinois where the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Jerry Costello, is retiring.
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. won another term even though he has been on a leave of absence — and not campaigning — since June to be treated for bipolar disorder and other health problems.
Democrats were expected to retain control of the Illinois Legislature, where arguably the strangest legislative race involved expelled former Rep. Derrick Smith's bid for another term. The Chicago Democrat won his seat back despite being under indictment on federal bribery charges and being the first lawmaker in more than a century to be booted out of the House. Hoping to avoid embarrassment, party leaders were backing third-party candidate Lance Tyson.
Obama spent the day in Chicago and was expected to deliver a victory speech at his campaign's election-night party at the McCormick Place convention center.
The election season was quieter than usual in Illinois, with no statewide races on the ballot and Obama expected to easily win the state's 20 electoral votes. Yet Cook County Clerk David Orr, who is responsible for overseeing voting in suburban communities around Chicago, described turnout as "robust."
Illinois voters also get to decide whether to amend the state constitution. The proposed change — which some voters found confusing — would require a three-fifths vote, instead of a simple majority, for any public body to increase pension benefits.
Associated Press writers Sophia Tareen and Michael Tarm contributed to this report.