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AP Calls 17th District For Bustos; King Not Conceding

Tim Shelley
The Associated Press has called the 17th Congressional District race for incumbent Democrat Cheri Bustos.

UPDATED 7:15 P.M. | U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Moline) has been declared the winner in the race for the 17th District seat, but Republican challenger Esther Joy King is not yet acknowledging defeat.

The Associated Press called the race for Bustos at 9:15 a.m. Thursday. That would send Bustos back to Washington for her fifth term representing the Central/Northwestern Illinois district that includes parts of Peoria, Pekin and East Peoria.

Credit Facebook
Republican challenger Esther Joy King has not conceded in the 17th Congressional District race.

However, an hour earlier the King campaign released a statement saying a concession would be premature, citing outstanding absentee and mail-in ballots and alleging “unexplained anomalies in election returns” with late results from Rock Island County.

“At this moment, we're just here ensuring that all the votes and the district were counted whether they be early, absentee or on election day, and we want to make sure that they were counted accurately,” said Eric Anderson, King’s campaign manager. “We do certainly believe that there are some Esther King votes still remaining out there.”

Bustos, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has 52% of the vote and a lead of almost 11,000 votes with all precincts counted. Mail-in ballots would still be added to the totals if they are received by election authorities in the district by November 17.

The unexpectedly close race has added in fostering scrutiny of Bustos among some Democrats, along with her close ties to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the party’s underwhelming performance in congressional races across the country.

“From day one, Congresswoman Bustos has fought for our community, our state and our nation, and is humbled to have won the support of the voters,” campaign representative Denise Mousouris said in an emailed response.

“She considers it the honor of her life to serve the 711,000 residents of this Congressional District, whether they cast their vote for her or did not; whether they are Democrats or Republicans or anywhere in between, and she looks forward to doing all she can to help this region of the state of Illinois and the people who live here.”

King, a 34-year-old real estate lawyer and U.S. Army Reserve captain, held a narrow 1,040 ballot advantage after 97% of districts had reported Tuesday. But the late Rock Island returns produced a 12,000-vote swing in Bustos’ favor, prompting her to declare victory early Wednesday.

“We just thought it was strange that so many votes favoring Cheri Bustos came out at the close of the evening,” said Anderson. “We think that the timing and the strangely large amount of Cheri Bustos votes coming out at that specific time was a little peculiar.”

The sudden reversal suggests the vast majority of vote-by-mail ballots counted late by Rock Island County appear to lean heavily for Bustos. In a news release Thursday afternoon, Rock Island County Clerk Karen Kinney attributed the hour-plus delay to faulty memory cards setting back inclusion of pre-Election Day results.

“The Rock Island County Clerk’s Office has earned a reputation of delivering the vote with honesty and integrity,” Kinney said in the release. “We strive for accuracy, and it takes time to count all the votes accurately.”

Kinney reported more than 44,000 votes cast before Election Day through early and mail-in voting. She said nearly 23,000 votes were cast in person Tuesday. Bustos earned 57% of the Rock Island County vote.

“In politics, one candidate wins; another loses,” said Mousouris, adding “this is a time for our nation to unite, and the people have spoken.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.