But Schaefer would get another chance to win an election. After a couple of years as an assistant state's attorney in Coles County, he was appointed to succeed Millard Everhart as Cumberland County State's Attorney in late 2002.
Schaefer won full terms in Cumberland in both 2004 and 2008, but lost by 272 votes in a three-way race for a third term in 2012.
After nearly 20 years in the public sector, Schaefer opened a law office in downtown Effingham. He said that was an adjustment.
"You have to advertise, make contacts and do what all businesspeople have to do," he said. But he kept his hand in the public sector by working as the conflict public defender for Clark and Edgar counties until the opportunity in the Illinois Attorney General's office materialized. In that role, he coordinates complex criminal cases over multiple jurisdictions.
"Sometimes if a local prosecutor tries a drug case, it's harder to go up the chain," he said.
The Illinois General Assembly passed legislation in the 1990s to create a statewide grand jury for cases extending into multiple jurisdictions within the state.
"It's a tool that's available," Schaefer said. "We try to make sure local prosecutors know we are here and that we want to help."
Schaefer has always been drawn to criminal law, and he believes the new job fits his strengths.
"I have always been more temperamentally suited to be a prosecutor," he said. "But you have to be able to think like the other side."
Schaefer and wife Linda have five children and three grandchildren between them. He is a member of Masonic Lodge 834 in Toledo and likes to fish and read.