CHICAGO — Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bill Brady were stuck in limbo Wednesday instead of launching a transition or tackling one of the nation's worst budget problems, as the Illinois governor's race dragged on along with a handful of other contests nationwide.
Brady said he was willing to wait as much as a month for official results after all the votes are counted to see if he can overcome Quinn's slim lead. It won't be an easy task.
Quinn gained ground Wednesday and by evening his margin had grown to more than 16,000 votes of more than 3.6 million cast. But the Democrat still may face a fall legislative session without any certainty he'll be governor come January – a handicap as he tries to resolve a budget deficit that could hit $15 billion next year.
Brady, meanwhile, is left battling to prove he can win and persuade supporters to stay optimistic, rather than looking ahead to form a new administration.
Still, the possibility of not having the election settled until the state certifies results early next month won't completely undermine government business, said Democratic Senate President John Cullerton.
"There's a process set out in state law so that situations like this are addressed. ... Regardless of the outcome, Pat Quinn is governor, and he's going to be governor until at least Jan. 10," Cullerton said in a statement.
Votes from a relative handful of precincts in Chicago remained uncounted Wednesday afternoon. An Associated Press survey of 90 percent of the state's election jurisdictions found as many as 50,000 absentee and provisional ballots also had yet to be counted.
"I seem to have a penchant for close elections," Brady said. "Having been through this process before I know the importance of making sure every voice is heard and every vote is counted. I believe we will win."
In February, Brady squeaked out a Republican primary win by fewer than 200 votes and was not officially declared the winner until more than a month later.
Quinn could get an early indication Thursday of how the close election will affect his ability to lead. The Senate has scheduled a vote to deal with a key issue of Quinn's: borrowing $3.7 billion to make Illinois' payment to its pension system. Quinn's office said he was not expected to travel to Springfield.
Democratic Rep. Jack Franks of Marengo predicted the pension borrowing plan, which stalled in the Senate last spring, would fail because there isn't enough support. That, he said, has nothing to do with the outcome of Tuesday's election.
"A mandate only applies when you have a strong, charismatic leader people believe in and are ready to follow. That doesn't characterize our governor," he said.
The former lieutenant governor, Quinn has been on the job since replacing ousted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in January 2009. But he's often been unable to get lawmakers to go along with what he wants.
Tuesday's election marked his first shot at a full term.
An unsettled election also could slow down Quinn's progress on the politically risky income tax increase he campaigned on to help relieve the state's finances. He wants to increase the tax rate from 3 percent to 4 percent to generate more money for education, although lawmakers wouldn't get behind his previous push.
Lawmakers are unlikely to tackle such a thorny issue until the winner of the governor's race is finalized, said Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus of politics at the University of Illinois-Springfield.
"They'd want to be very confident that this is part of a four-year strategy and not suddenly have to be dealing with a Gov. Brady," Redfield said.
Brady campaigned on a pledge not to raise taxes.
Associated Press writer David Mercer contributed to this report from Bloomington.