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Illinois Republicans say they have a chance at changing Springfield

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Illinois Republicans faced an uphill battle Tuesday to try to wrestle control of the General Assembly away from the Democrats.

The GOP needed six seats in both the House and Senate to form majorities for the first time in either house since 2002.

Republicans hoped to resonate with their message that Democrats are to blame for multibillion-dollar budget and public pension deficits and unemployment near 9 percent.

The Illinois Republicans held a Mitt Romney watch party at the Witt Hotel in Chicago on Election Day, headed by Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford.

The president's popularity is known in Chicago. But Illinois Republicans said they have a shot at changing Springfield from blue to red, and have a story of their own on the other side of the aisle.

When came to whether Illinois would be won by Democratic President Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the highest ranking Republican office holder in the state, Dan Rutherford, isn't kidding himself.

For Romney to win Illinois, he said, the chances were slim but not impossible. Rutherford admits that beating Barack Obama in his home state would have been a Herculean task.

"It will be abundantly difficult. I am looking at various pockets around, looking overall," Rutherford said. "My gut tells me - having been out in the field literally seven days a week for quite a time, campaigning for county board candidate and other candidates - there is a strong movement a real rustling under the leaves out there that the public wants change."

Barack Obama won Illinois on Election Night.

SEE: Obama wins Ill.; Dems target close Congress races

But the GOP party is excited for prospective total results of this election, and Rutherford is a "glass half full" kind of guy.

The kind of change he's talking about is at the local and state level. Controlling either the house or senate in Springfield is a top priority and doable in Rutherford's opinion.

For the congressional races in and around Chicago, he's got a close eye on the Rep. Joe Walsh-Tammy Duckworth battle and the race between Rep. Judy Biggert and Bill Foster.

Rutherford believes voters are going find out if the Chicago metropolitan area will see change. He said the people who voted for the president in 2008 will not be the same in 2012.

More importantly, the GOP faced legislative districts drawn by majority Democrats to largely favor Democratic candidates. The map was re crafted because of population shifts revealed by the 2010 Census. But even with all 177 seats in the General Assembly up for a vote, nearly half were uncontested and dozens of Democrats were assured victory.

The ballot featured some oddities. Former state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, was ejected from the House in August because of a federal bribery charge. He pleaded not guilty and has remained in the race while Democrats put forward a challenger in 10th District Unity candidate Lance Tyson, who's worked for former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.

"No one's really talking about it, and they're just saying, `You're innocent until proven guilty,"' Smith said during a visit to a west-side Chicago polling place. "I've been talking to my lawyer continually to try to expedite it so I can clear my name."

SEE: Smith, Tyson battle for 10th district Democratic votes in Illinois

In the McHenry County area, Republican David McSweeney of Barrington Hills was trying to keep the former seat of the late Rep. Mark Beaubien. He had an unlikely opponent in Beaubien's widow, Dee Beaubien of Barrington Hills, who was running as an independent. She received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign money from committees controlled by Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Bill Albracht of Moline was one of several Republicans trying to unseat entrenched Democratic incumbents. The former Secret Service agent, squared off against Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline. Jacobs said he had "delivered" for his district in the form of projects paid by tax dollars he brought back home.

Mindful of Illinois' Democratic leanings, many Republicans played up their independence and willingness to work with members of opposition parties. Decatur Mayor Mike McElroy, a Republican Senate candidate, did that while also criticizing his opponent, Democrat Andy Manar of Bunker Hill, for being an insider even though he's not an incumbent.

Manar was a Senate Democratic staffer for years and resigned as Senate President John Cullerton's chief of staff to seek the Senate seat just south of Springfield.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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