GOP's Kirk Wins Obama's Former Senate Seat In Ill.

The Illinois Senate seat last won by Barack Obama fell out of Democratic hands last night as Republican Rep. Mark Kirk slid to victory over Democrat Alexi Giannoulias.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Republicans also won one of their biggest election targets: the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama. In Illinois, they're celebrating that win by their candidate, Mark Kirk. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: For Illinois Republicans like Dupage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett, the Kirk victory was clearly a moment to savor.

Mr. JOE BIRKETT (Dupage County State's Attorney): The seat once held by President Barack Obama now belongs to the people of the state of Illinois again.

(Soundbite of cheering)

CORLEY: Republicans had pulled out the money stops on this one, pummeling the Democrats' fundraising efforts and pouring millions into campaign ads. With his win, Congressman and now Senator-elect Kirk broke a five-year-plus Democratic hold on the U.S. Senate seat and Democratic control of all the top seats in Illinois.

In his victory speech, Kirk said there had been dark days, as he made reference to the allegations that former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich had tried to sell the appointment to the vacated seat once Barack Obama was elected president.

Senator-Elect MARK KIRK (Republican, Illinois): Washington partisans threw the kitchen sink at us to hold it but tonight the sun set on a one-party corrupt state.

CORLEY: It was an embarrassing blow to President Obama. He had come to Illinois three times to raise money and campaign for Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias, who was gracious to Kirk in his concession speech...

Mr. ALEXI GIANNOULIAS (Democratic Senatorial Candidate, Illinois): I think he will make a good senator. I think he will make a strong senator and...

Unidentified Man: He's a liar.

Mr. GIANNOULIAS: And hang on. No, no. Hey, no. No. He is our senator and he's going to help a lot of people.

CORLEY: In a nod to his former opponent, Kirk said the tough campaign and partisanship was over. He offered to have a beer with Giannoulias at a Chicago bar later this evening. Kirk told the crowd as senator he'll work now to fight for the Bush tax cuts, to reduce the deficit, and move the country back to the right of center.

Mr. KIRK: Are you with me?

CROWD: Yes.

CORLEY: Kirk says he'll move to get sworn in quickly since he also won a special election to fill out the rest of the Obama term.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News.

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