May 22, 2022

Opinion

In race for Illinois governor, Republican voters should look past the ads and mudslinging to find substance

Patrick Pfingsten

Richard Irvin, the Aurora mayor and Republican running for governor with an infinitesimal record as an actual Republican, may think we’re dumb. If he doesn’t, his well-funded campaign with highly paid professional political operatives probably thinks we are.

Irvin, who is hoping to become the first African American major party nominee for governor in Illinois history, has been buoyed by $20 million (so far) from billionaire Ken Griffin. Griffin’s contributions have helped fund more than $10 million in television ads, digital spending and direct mail pieces.

His lack of conservative bona fides, weak name ID and wannabe tough guy pro-cop message, which is more vanilla than a pint of Häagen-Dazs ice cream, launched Irvin’s campaign with a stumble. It didn’t help that Irvin has voted in five of the last six Democratic primaries. Add his “all lives matter” rhetoric in ads that is directly in contrast to his embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement as mayor and it isn’t hard to see why there are trust issues. He’s hoping voters overlook his high praise of the job Gov. JB Pritzker did during the pandemic.

Irvin has made few public appearances, done just a handful of interviews with Chicago media and has agreed to a debate with a Chicago TV station the same night other top-tier candidates have committed to a different TV debate. As his poll numbers remained stagnant, Irvin’s political hitmen haven’t just gone negative, they’ve gone scorched earth. And they haven’t just resorted to fiction against his opponents, in some cases, it’s science fiction.

Irvin’s campaign has been plastering mailboxes around the state with comical attacks on his two main rivals, southern Illinois state Sen. Darren Bailey and Springfield-area venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan. In one, it shows a poorly produced image of Bailey in an “I ‘heart’ Biden” T-shirt and Sullivan in an “I ‘heart’ Obama” T-shirt. Bailey voted in the 2008 Democratic primary, which is fair game. Irvin’s crew is implying a statement from Bailey that he may have voted for Joe Biden in 2008 to mean Bailey voted for Biden in 2022. A student publication Sullivan was involved with in 2008 wrote an endorsement of Obama, but from what I can tell, Sullivan had no role in it. Did I mention Irvin has voted in five of the last six Democratic primaries?

What isn’t Irvin talking about? Anything of substance. He hasn’t detailed any policy proposals, and if you look at his websites, you get policy positions like this gem:

“As governor, Richard will be tough on crime and criminals.”

Compelling.

In his Shaw Media questionnaire, Irvin said he wants to cut taxes, but doesn’t address pension debt. But he sure threw a bone to the Trumpist wing in the GOP by refusing to say Biden won the 2020 election.

I’m not advocating for Irvin’s opponents. Many of them have electability issues to be dog catcher, much less in a race against a billionaire governor with nearly unlimited funds.

But Republican primary voters need to take a few minutes of their day to look past the TV commercials, past the silly negative ads and read up on these candidates. Then they need to ask themselves two questions: Which candidate shares my vision for the state and who can beat Pritzker?

You may be hard-pressed answering one or both of those questions, especially while Richard Irvin is spending more time slinging mud than talking about his plans for the state.

• Patrick Pfingsten is a former award-winning journalist and longtime Republican strategist who writes The Illinoize statewide political newsletter. You can read more at www.theillinoize.com or contact him at patrick@theillinoize.com.