BELLEVILLE — Congressman-elect Bill Enyart sat in his living room late Thursday morning looking relaxed and rested.
Only 36 hours after his win in the 12th U.S. House District race, it still was sinking in for the Belleville lawyer and retired Illinois National Guard commander.
"I believe that the people of the district wanted someone with serious credentials and serious experience to represent the district in serious times," he said. "And I thought I had the credentials, so I was very confident."
Enyart won a hard-fought battle against Republican candidate Jason Plummer, of Fairivew Heights, and Green Party candidate Paula Bradshaw.
Now it was on with the task of getting ready to serve his constituents in Washington, D.C.
Enyart, 63, has already nixed the idea of buying a house in the nation's capital.
"I'm used to Belleville (home prices)," Enyart said. "I couldn't buy in Washington, D.C."
So instead, Enyart plans to rent an apartment for himself alone.
"I'm too old for a roommate," he said.
Enyart intends to emulate what U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville -- whom Enyart will replace in early January -- has been doing for the past 24 years.
"I'll be living here and when Congress is in session I'll be in D.C.," he said. Costello was known for coming back home to the district nearly every weekend.
Enyart, who retired in June with the rank of major general after five years as National Guard commander, made it clear he plans to represent the 12th District for more than a single two-year term.
"You're not going to get everything done in two years," he said. "I would certainly hope to stay for more than one term. Because I think it's going to take longer than that to do it."
Besides finding a place to live, Enyart must attend to other nuts-and-bolts details, such as finding people to fill his office staff and provide constituent services at field offices in the 12 Southern Illinois counties that comprise the district.
"I plan to keep Jerry's staff in place," he said. "I think they've done a great job. They really know constituent services."
Then there's the matter of committee assignments. Enyart said a top priority is for him to serve on the House Armed Services Committee, a critical issue for him since Illinois won't have a representative on that panel when the House reconvenes in January.
With his military background, and his goal of protecting Scott Air Force Base, "It would be a great committee for me to sit on, obviously."
Though a newcomer to politics, Enyart exuded quiet confidence throughout the campaign, even though he entered it late -- after March primary winner Brad Harriman had dropped out for health reasons.
"I thought I would win this campaign on June 6," he said. "June 6 is the day I retired from the National Guard seeking the nomination. I believe that I would get picked for the nomination and I believed I would win the election."
Political scientist David Yepsen agreed that quiet confidence was one of the factors that carried the Belleville Democrat to victory.
"I think Enyart was successful not because he's a former general but because he had a gravitas about himself personally," said Yepsen, the executive director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIU Carbondale.
Plummer's cause was further hurt by the fact that Republicans took a beating all across Illinois and the nation, Yepsen said.
"It was just the atmospherics were bad for Republicans," he said. "I think what happened was the Democrats had a far superior turnout effort. The fact is the young people who had dropped out of the electorate in 2010 came back."
Philip Lesseigne, the Plummer campaign spokesman, ascribed Enyart's victory to the fact that the Democrat-controlled Illinois General Assembly had drawn an electoral map that favored Democrats.
"The results we had here were pretty similar to the results we had across Illinois and across the country for House races," Lesseigne said. "All the districts were drawn specifically to make sure the Democrats could win and hold seats. I think we clearly saw that on Tuesday."
Kent Redfield, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield, agreed that Democratic control of the electoral map was key, as well as President Obama's popularity and the superiority of the Democrats' voter outreach effort.
But it wasn't the only reason for Enyart's success, Redfield said.
"The difference here was that for a Republican to win, you needed to have the superior candidate and I just don't think that was the case," he said. "I think that people had concerns about whether Plummer was ready for primetime or not, whether he was up to the job."
Plummer, 30, is a real estate developer who lost two years ago in his bid for Illinois lieutenant governor.
Enyart faces some tough votes when he takes office in January, especially as they relate to the issue of whether to raise federal income tax rates.
The freshman congressman-elect said he's ready for whatever negative fallout might come his way because of his voting record.
"I'm obviously not a career politician," he said. "And I never set out to be a congressman. But I've been selected, I've been hired by the voters of this district to represent them, and represent their best interests in the Congress of the United States. And I've had to make tough decisions in the past, and that's what I've been paid to do for 30 years, is make tough decisions."