A tutor and former teacher from Charleston has won the Democratic nomination in the 15th Congressional District, and will face Republican congressman John Shimkus in November.
Kevin Gaither, originally from Sullivan, Illinois, beat businessman Carl Spoerer of Mahomet.
With more than 96 percent of the precincts counted, Gaither led 17,185 votes to 10,508 votes. All vote totals are unofficial until they are canvassed.
The 15th is among the largest congressional districts in Illinois, covering 33 counties in southern and southeastern Illinois, including Saline and Gallatin.
As his victory became apparent Tuesday, Gaither started looking forward to the general election.
"If money is going to win this race, there's no chance," he said, pledging instead that he will outwork Shimkus. Still, he said, he got more money donated to his primary race than any Democrat in the district has gotten in a decade.
Gaither knows that to have a chance in November, he'll have to convince significant numbers of automatic Republican voters to switch.
"I'm going to appeal to them through their values, that I share," he said Tuesday. "There hasn't been a Democratic candidate come along in a long time who speaks their language, that makes them believe there is a chance for us."
Gaither said he was in Harrisburg last Thursday and Friday, talking to voters.
"Towns like Harrisburg matter," he added, referencing the new KFC that opened last week, which appears to be the nation's largest.
"I am dedicated to making a different for these people and giving their children a chance to stay here and have a future to be proud of."
Spoerer, of Mahomet, near Champaign, campaigned as a "heartland Democrat" in the model of Glenn Poshard and Paul Simon. He owns and operates Rural Country Marketing Corp., a small telecom company. He was not immediately available to comment Tuesday night.
The general election will be held on Nov. 6.