The state's most interesting race this season is the battle to replace retiring Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, not because it is likely to be close, but because of the drama surrounding the candidates.
After months of scandal and a six-week search for a Republican replacement candidate, the state has two Harvard-educated black politicians running a race that will almost certainly send a fresh face to Washington.
Running for the Democrats is state Sen. Barack Obama, who is widely seen as a rising star within the party. Running against Obama is Republican Alan Keyes, a Maryland resident who had never even lived in Illinois. Keyes stepped into the race after the party's primary winner, Jack Ryan withdrew because of a scandal.
Ryan, a teacher, millionaire and former investment banker, had won his party's slot to take on Obama, but withdrew in June when his candidacy became embroiled in turmoil over sex club allegations.
Republicans had been hoping to hold onto the seat, with Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist making early appearances on Ryan's behalf in the state. Scandal ensued when divorce records were released showing that his ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan, said he took her to sex clubs and tried to pressure her to perform sex acts while others watched. Ryan has denied the allegations.
Republican leaders said they felt betrayed and embarrassed. Some said publicly that there was no way Ryan could be elected, and most others said the same thing privately. Fitzgerald continued to support him, but Ryan eventually dropped out.
The party's search for a replacement candidate quickly became a drama in itself. Candidates with name recognition _ former governors, state senators, even Chicago Bears great Mike Ditka _ briefly flirted with the idea of a run but declined. Eventually the state party recruited Keyes, a conservative talk show host and former ambassador.
Obama kept quiet during the scandal. He's cast himself as the successor to the late Sen. Paul Simon, an icon in Illinois politics whose daughter appeared in an Obama television ad. He gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
All but one of the state's 19 incumbent congressmen are running for re-election and seem to have a strong chance of succeeding. The only one not running, Rep. William Lipinski, announced just days before the ballot deadline that he was retiring and persuaded Democratic leaders to run his 38-year-old son, Daniel Lipinski, in his place. The younger Lipinski, a political science professor, faces a politically unknown, Republican Ryan Chlada.
Ryan lost the 2002 gubernatorial race to Democrat Rod Blagojevich in 2002. Blagojevich became the first Democratic governor in more than a quarter-century.
Nearly two years later, Blagojevich finds his ratings dropping. In late May, 40 percent of registered voters surveyed said they approve of the job Blagojevich is doing as governor, down from 55 percent in a similar poll in February. The number of people who disapprove of his performance has risen to 36 percent, up from 27 percent in February.
The decline in approval followed months of wrangling between the governor and state lawmakers over a wide range of issues, including education, gambling and how to address a large projected budget deficit.
Outgoing Senator Fitzgerald spent more than $14 million of his own money to become the Senate's youngest member in 1998 at age 38. He had been a little-known state senator from Inverness when he upset the GOP establishment's candidate in the primary and then narrowly beat Democrat Carol Moseley Braun, the first black woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
With Fitzgerald's reputation as a maverick and Illinois' trend toward electing Democrats to statewide office, Fitzgerald faced the prospect of a tough re-election bid that would cost him another big chunk of his family banking fortune. He opted instead to retire.