Will County — A soybean-farming state senator from downstate – a mere millionaire because he owns 12,000 acres of prime farmland – wants to defeat a famous family’s billionaire scion’s bid to repeat as Illinois governor.
Now each gets their chance on Nov. 8 when Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey takes on Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker. Bailey was among a GOP field in Tuesday’s primary election for the gubernatorial nomination that also included Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan, Bull Valley businessman Gary Rabine, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf and Max Solomon.
The Associated Press declared Bailey the winner at 8:30 p.m.
At 9:15 p.m., when early returns came in, Bailey held a 55% (437,680 votes) to 19% (149,327) lead over Irvin. The other Republicans were far behind.
Pritzker had 772,190 votes and only token opposition.
Tuesday initially seemed like most off-year primaries with a low turnout, sharp verbal hostility in TV ads and candidates running with virtually no chance to win. But the primary was enlivened this spring the way contests always get juiced – money.
The final totals likely will dwarf the $100 million spent in the last Illinois primary, which is poised to become the most expensive nonpresidential race in U.S. history. Statewide elections in Illinois have become the province of the ultra-wealthy.
After spending $130 million over a decade fighting Pritzker politically, capital hedge fund magnate Ken Griffin bolted the state for Miami last week. He took his $24 billion with him, along with the $200 million in yearly state taxes.
He had spent $50 million trying to get Irvin the nomination. He couldn’t.
The day before Griffin’s exit, the massed polls at Fivethirtyeight.com had given Pritzker a 20-point percentage lead over either Bailey or Irvin.
Pritzker had spent $30 million this time around, but mostly to support Bailey, who could be an easier target this fall. That is a risky strategy that does not always win. He spent early money on TV ads showing voters offering testimonials to him. But he has been largely silent for months while he funded Republicans taking verbal potshots at each other.
Lake Forest arch-conservative billionaire bankroller Dick Uihlein gave Bailey $16 million, much of which went for Chicago TV ads after Bailey had called the city a “corrupt, crime-ridden cesspool.” When challenged, Bailey adopted the Trump model and doubled down on the accusation.
He always has been deeply conservative and has now allied himself with Donald Trump in all meaningful ways. He is anti-abortion rights, pro guns and against taxes, although he always is a member of Republican minorities in the Illinois statehouse.
Polls conducted in June by Trafalgar and the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago radio station WBEZ showed Bailey with a solid average of 35%, leading Irvin and four other candidates – Jesse Sullivan, Gary Rabine, Paul Schimpf and Max Solomon. Irvin scored a polling average of about 18.5%.
Pritzker is running on a record that includes a long list of liberal legislative accomplishments, navigating the state through the COVID-19 pandemic and overseeing the improvement of the state’s fiscal condition.
During his first year in office, the supermajority of Democrats in the General Assembly approved a historic infrastructure improvement program, codified abortion rights, and legalized and taxed recreational marijuana, among other significant measures.
The governor’s handling of the response to the pandemic, including his early decision to order the closures of all restaurants and bars to indoor service and schools for in-person classes, has been an especially polarizing subject.
“Look, I may not have gotten every decision right, but at every step along the way, I followed the science and focused on protecting the lives and livelihoods of the people of Illinois,” Pritzker said in a campaign advertisement.
In 2018, Pritzker handily defeated then-Republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose only term in office was marred by a historic state budget impasse. Pritzker defeated Rauner by a 54% to 38% margin.
But 2018 was a different political environment for Democrats as a blue wave swept through Illinois and much of the country as voters in largely suburban districts drove a backlash against then-President Donald Trump.
This year, it’s the Democrats who might see a backlash, as Republicans could take control of at least one chamber of Congress amid soaring inflation, high gas prices and other economic concerns under President Joe Biden’s leadership.
The last time Republicans saw success in a midterm election in 2014, that red wave led to Rauner’s win over Pat Quinn.