AMBOY — Charles and Donna Oster were among the 100 or so people seeking shade at the Lions Club Shelter near the Amboy Train Depot Museum on Friday, waiting for the Darren Bailey campaign bus to arrive.
Charles is 90 and, in his words, “apolitical.” He was here for his wife Donna, who didn’t share her age but was quick to demonstrate why she supported the state senator from Xenia.
Donna just turned her Bailey placard over, revealing “Fire Pritzker” on the backside. She smiled sweetly as she pointed at the words with her forefinger.
Bailey first gained notoriety by challenging Gov. JB Pritzker’s pandemic-related executive orders in the Clay County courts. Some polling shows Bailey as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for governor, ahead of Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, businessman Gary Rabine, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf and lawyer Max Solomon.
His campaign made several stops in northwest Illinois, including the Sweetbean Cafe in Byron, Martin’s Landing in Sterling and Poopy’s Pub in Savanna.
Cyclists Vicki Dambman, 67, of Dixon, and her training partner Beth Becker, a former teacher in Amboy, detoured their 38-mile morning training ride to hear the candidate. Both said they prefer Bailey.
“I like that he’s a Christian,” Dambman said. “I like that he supports family values. Everything he says just seems to be from his heart.”
Becker supports him because of his stances against abortion and for Second Amendment gun rights. But really, the fact his bus tour itinerary includes Amboy, a town of 2,400, speaks volumes.
“So, I never see Pritzker coming out to Amboy, Illinois, to talk to us about what the issues are. I don’t see Irvin coming out here. You don’t see any of the other candidates coming out here to the middle of Amboy,” she said.
Amy Hicks and two children, also rolled up on their bicycles, though at a gentler pace than the power cyclists. Hicks said she was there to show her support. “I like his conservative values,” she said.
Kimberly McClanahan was there with two boys, part of a homeschooling “field trip” for civics. She said she is undecided but leaning toward Bailey, having followed his opposition to the administration during the pandemic and wanted to see him in person.
“I like that he’s from a farming community,” McClanahan said. “Faith is important to him as well. And that he has stood up for kids throughout the last couple of years and really fought for our rights as parents.”
The crowd also included Dixon’s Brad Fritts, who is running against Dixon Mayor Li Arellano, for the Republican nomination for the open 74th District statehouse seat. Fritts, who mingled with voters, said he was there as a voter himself, eager to hear Bailey’s message.
State Sen. Win Stoller of Germantown Hills, who is being challenged in the 37th District by Dixon’s Brett Nicklaus, was there to introduce Bailey as he got off the bus. Stoller and Bailey entered the state Senate together in the 2020 class, and Stoller told the crowd they sit near each other in chambers, often confer on legislation, and have co-sponsored a bill requiring voter ID.
Bailey himself acknowledged the campaign bus was late arriving, “God bless you for waiting,” he said as he strode across the parking lot to greet those in the shade of the shelter.
Attorney Tom DeVore, a Greenville lawyer who represented individuals opposed to mask mandates, was part of the entourage and gave a short stump speech in his bid for attorney general, citing his opposition to the “tyranny” shown by the executive during the pandemic.
Bailey’s own address was short and upbeat: “Our momentum will continue to grow. You will see results,” he said.
It then took an anti-establishment theme, aimed at both Pritzker and the Democratic-controlled Legislature and also his own party’s leadership. He warned it was going to be a summer of hardship, saying higher fuel prices are coming, higher energy prices, brownouts and blackouts, higher food prices, even food shortages. “Much of it could be addressed at the Statehouse,” he said. As governor, he said he would address it.
Other themes consistent with his campaign were mentioned: High tax rates are disrupting small businesses and support for law enforcement. Bailey then encouraged those assembled to get out the vote.
He closed by saying he would hold fast to the trust placed in him, if elected. “You must be there to hold me accountable,” he said.
Before departing, Bailey then asked the assembly to come into the sunshine for a group picture in front of the campaign bus. Nearly everyone under the shelter did.