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CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois State Rep. Dan Brady soundly defeated former prosecutor John Milhiser on Tuesday in the race for the Republican nomination for Illinois Secretary of State, as longtime Democratic incumbent Jesse White prepares to retire.
With 52.8% of the vote counted, Brady was leading Milhiser 77% to 23%.
“Tonight has shown that hard work still counts for something in Illinois politics,” Brady said in his victory speech in Bloomington.
While Milhiser far outpaced Brady in fundraising, thanks almost entirely due an infusion of $700,000 from Republican candidate for governor Richard Irvin, who was himself bankrolled by billionaire Ken Griffin. Nonetheless, Brady held a lead in the polls just weeks before the election, although a majority of Republican voters remained undecided as of two weeks before the primary.
Both candidates have touted their ability to work across the aisle, and have both emphasized a need to upgrade technology and streamline the office.
Brady will go on to face the winner of a four-way Democratic race between Alexi Giannoulias, Anna Valencia, David Moore, and Sidney Moore. Giannoulias was leading late Tuesday night, with 53% of the vote.
It’s been the first genuine race for the Illinois Secretary of State’s office in more than two decades. Longtime Secretary of State Jesse White opted not to run for a 7th term after holding office since 1999, and during that time, not only did he never face a challenger in the Democratic primary, but he never faced a serious challenge in a general election, taking at least 62% of the vote in each of his re-election bids.
White’s retirement could give Republicans their first genuine chance at retaking the office since White was elected to replace George Ryan, who went on to become governor, only to be convicted in a sweeping corruption case stemming from a licenses-for-bribes scandal during his time as secretary of state.
It’s Ryan’s indictment that’s often seen as the first step in the downfall of the Illinois Republican Party over the past two decades.
Brady, a state lawmaker for more than 20 years, and one of two deputy Republican leaders in the Illinois House, has touted his experience and said secretary of state is an office he’s long wanted to run for.
He has a long reputation for being able to work with Democrats in the legislature, helping pass the state’s “first-person consent law,” which allows adult organ donors to decide whether to donate their organs after their deaths, preventing family members from deciding for them. He also supported legislation to grant temporary visitor’s driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Milhiser, a former U.S. Attorney for central Illinois, oversaw the 2021 indictment of former state Sen. Sam McCcann on federal fraud charges, and the 2019 conviction of Brendt Christensen in the kidnapping and killing of Yingying Zhang, a Chinese doctoral student at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Milhiser was part of a GOP slate of allies backed by Griffin, who has been seeking to oust fellow billionaire J.B. Pritzker from the governor’s office, and has given $50 million to Republican candidate for governor Richard Irvin, who in turn transferred $700,000 of that money to Milhiser’s campaign.
But Irvin’s own campaign faltered in recent weeks, and he was easily defeated by Illinois State Sen. Darren Bailey on Tuesday. That defeat came just days after Griffin announced he was moving his family and his Chicago-based hedge fund, Citadel, to Miami.