Eye On Illinois: Despite detractors, governor capable of securing 2nd term

Gov. JB Pritzker can win a second term.

That’s not a prediction – I’m trying to stay out of that game, at least where elections are concerned – but it’s a fact: Despite his many vocal critics, the incumbent who announced his reelection bid Monday, is quite capable of retaining power in 2022.

On one level it’s a painfully obvious statement: Barring an extreme surprise, Pritzker will sail through a Democratic primary. Whoever emerges as the Republican nominee can win the office as well. The last person to hold the office from outside those two parties was Joseph Duncan, the Whig who served as the state’s sixth governor from 1834-1838.

But getting into armchair political analysis, saying Pritzker can repeat is a little more than just blind math. Since 2002, only one Republican has been elected governor, despite the fact the GOP had a near monopoly on the office going back to 1969. In 2020, the state voted blue by 57.5%-40.5%. That party strength, plus the incumbent’s advantage, are strong assets.

He is not universally loved. In many corners Pritzker is outright reviled – there are towns where “Fire Pritzker” and “Pritzker Sucks” yard signs dot seemingly every lawn and storefront. Much (but not all) of that anger is targeted toward the way state government has responded to COVID-19, stemming from the perception the governor wielded too much power, imposed draconian lockdown rules and crushed businesses based on personal whims.

Without saying those beliefs are invalid, it should be noted the perceptions aren’t universal. Pritzker’s first campaign advertisement plays up his pandemic response, a clear sign he thinks the contrast with the strategies of the former president or Republican governors in other states will attract more voters than it repels. He also will tout the minimum wage increase and legalization of sports betting and recreational marijuana.

Some legislation he’s championed is unpopular. I expect readers will take time to email and call Pritzker a dictator, denigrate his physical appearance and assure me he’s the reason police are walking off the force while residents flee the state. A few will insist his 2018 election was rigged. But those remain minority views, none of which seems weighty enough alone to tip the electoral scales.

By far Pritzker’s biggest political failure was the push for a graduated income tax rate. It needed 60% to pass in 2020 and didn’t even get 47%. If opponents can reignite the fervor that defeated that referendum, Pritzker is vulnerable. But he maintains a considerable fundraising advantage – being a multibillionaire doesn’t hurt – and until we see who emerges from the Republican primary it’s impossible to set the tone of the 2022 campaign.

Pritzker may well lose. But he can certainly win.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.