The 2002 Illinois gubernatorial election pitted Democratic U.S. Congressman Rod Blagojevich against Republican Illinois Attorney GeneralJim Ryan. Incumbent Republican governor George Ryan, who was plagued by scandal, did not run for a second term; he was of no relation to Jim Ryan. Blagojevich won 52% to 45%, marking the first time a Democrat was elected governor of Illinois since 1972.
The Democratic primary was a very close 3-way race. Blagojevich prevailed by just 25,469 votes, and just by 2.03%. Vallas did very well in the Chicago suburbs, and narrowly defeated Burris in Cook County, the most populous county in the state. Vallas led early on in the night with Burris in second and Blagojevich in third. Vallas had won probably the most vital county, Cook County. For Blagojevich to beat both opponents, he had to run the board through the rest of Illinois. Blagojevich won almost all of the state's rural counties. Eventually, Cook County had reported all of its votes, with a slight advantage for Vallas over Burris. However many votes were still left to be counted in other cities outside the Chicago area. Blagojevich managed to pull out a narrow victory by winning in Champaign County, home of Champaign. Blagojevich also did well in Sangamon County home to the state's capital, Springfield. Blagojevich also won St. Clair County home of East St. Louis. In the early morning the day after the election, Vallas realized that with all of Cook County's votes counted he had lost. At 4:18 in the morning, Vallas called Blagojevich and congratulated him, and pledged Blagojevich his full support for the general election.
In the general election, Blagojevich defeated RepublicanIllinois Attorney GeneralJim Ryan by a solid margin. Ethics scandals had plagued the administration of incumbent Republican George Ryan, who was of no relation to Jim Ryan, and Blagojevich's campaign focused on the theme of "ending business as usual" in state government. During the campaign, Blagojevich played on the name of his opponent by asking "How can you replace one Ryan with another Ryan and call that change? You want change? Elect a guy named Blagojevich."