April 18, 2024

Pfingsten: Illinois GOP could be facing tough path to November

There could be a bad moon rising for Illinois Republicans this November.

It doesn’t have anything to do with Creedence Clearwater Revival and has everything to do with ultraconservative southern Illinois state Sen. Darren Bailey’s standing and impact on the November ballot.

A new statewide poll conducted exclusively for my political newsletter, The Illinoize, shows incumbent Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker leading the Republican Bailey by 20 points, 57% to 37% with 6% undecided. With about two months to go before Election Day, Bailey is, essentially, getting his tail kicked.

The survey of 512 likely voters was conducted by automated and live phone calls from Aug. 25 through Aug. 28. It has a margin of error of ±4.3%.

Bailey’s statewide approval rating is 26 points underwater (25% favorable, 51% unfavorable). He’s 15 points underwater with men (31%-46%), 34 points underwater with women (20%-54%), and moderates, the key to winning an election in Illinois, view him 62% unfavorably and 15% favorably. You don’t win a lot of elections in this state 47 points underwater with moderates. Pritzker is winning moderates by a 56%-31% rate. That’s game over if it stays that way.

To make matters worse, Bailey is getting creamed in Chicago, suburban Cook, and the collar counties and only winning downstate by five (49%-44%). These results clearly show things are not trending in his direction.

It’s hard to imagine people in Chicago are super excited for a guy with a southern drawl who hardly gets north of Interstate 70 accusing their hometown of being a “hellhole” anytime there’s a TV camera around. Obviously, Chicago media has played this up, but Bailey hasn’t given them much else to talk about.

Bailey absolutely had a chance to talk about the dire circumstances facing people in Chicago’s Roseland, Englewood or Garfield Park neighborhoods. Kids see more guns than textbooks, have limited educational opportunities, and can’t find jobs to help get them out of the despair. I’ll bet that feels like hell. Maybe it would be smart for a gubernatorial candidate to highlight those neighborhoods and have, you know, a plan for helping lift those communities up and stopping this endless cycle of violence, poverty, and sadness.

Would these numbers be specifically better had Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin won the primary? Maybe. But the hapless group of Rauner rejects running his campaign sure weren’t putting him in a position to win, either.

Bailey’s poll numbers look bad, but they’re worse down the ticket, it showed. In fact, Bailey is polling better than other statewide Republicans. U.S. Senate nominee Kathy Salvi is down 24 points, Secretary of State candidate Dan Brady is down 22, Treasurer nominee Tom Demmer is down 24, and the generic legislative ballot shows Republicans down 23 percentage points.


What’s hurting Republicans? Bailey’s struggling campaign isn’t helping, but the issues on the minds of voters today are benefitting Democrats. The top issue is guns, which remains top of mind following the deadly mass shooting at the Highland Park Independence Day parade. Abortion is also among the top three issues for voters right now, and we’ve seen Democrats are trying their darnedest to fire up the liberal base over Roe v. Wade, even though you almost can’t possibly make abortion more legal in Illinois.

There are some glimmers of hope for the GOP, though. If history is any indication (Columbine, Sandy Hook, Charleston, Orlando, the list sadly goes on), fervor for gun reform wanes the farther out you get from a mass shooting incident. That may not change this time, but if it gets back to normal, Republicans may be able to gain traction with their general election economic message.

The Republican brand surely is damaged heading down the stretch to the November election, but will talented politicians such as Demmer and Brady be able to right their own ship even if Bailey is snowed under by Pritzker’s millions? It’s hard to tell. Some Republicans still hold out hope anti-COVID-19 mitigation attorney Tom DeVore, the party’s nominee for Attorney General, can catch fire. But each of them is at a serious cash, name ID, and partisan disadvantage.

Republicans need something to change to change their fortunes, or else Nov. 8 could be a political bloodbath.

• Patrick Pfingsten is a former journalist and Republican strategist who writes The Illinoize statewide political newsletter. Read more at www.theillinoize.com or contact him at patrick@theillinoize.com.

Patrick Pfingsten

Patrick Pfingsten

Patrick Pfingsten is a former award-winning journalist and Republican strategist who writes The Illinoize statewide political newsletter.