Darren Bailey wins Illinois Republican nomination for governor
In a stunning rebuke to the state’s GOP establishment, conservative Downstate lawmaker Darren Bailey won the Republican nomination for governor Tuesday following a late endorsement by former President Donald Trump and millions of dollars in backing from his fall opponent, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who views Bailey as an easy challenge.
In earning the right to take on the first-term Pritzker, Bailey handily won a six-man primary. He dispatched Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, who was the de facto GOP establishment candidate with $50 million in funding from billionaire Ken Griffin.
With 85% of the state’s precincts reporting, unofficial totals showed, Bailey of Xenia won with 57% of the vote. He was followed by venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan of Petersburg, who had 16% of the vote, Irvin with 16%, Bull Valley businessman Gary Rabine with 6%, former state senator Paul Schimpf of Waterloo with 4% and Hazel Crest attorney Max Solomon with 1%.
“Thanks be to God. We did it and we’re going to do it again,” Bailey declared at the civic center in downstate Effingham, where he predicted victory in the Nov. 8 general election. ”Tonight, our movement sent a clear message to the establishment and the political elite. We will not be ignored.”
Bailey said the Republican Party would unite behind him for the general election against Pritzker, who he attacked as being an “out of touch, trust fund, elitist billionaire.”
”We believe in this movement. We believe in the people of Illinois and together, we will get Illinois back on track. It will happen, friends,” Bailey said. “Illinois is our home. This election is about our future and this campaign is our fight.”
Sullivan spoke to supporters at a craft brewery in Petersburg where he said of Bailey, “If I have to lose, I want to lose to a man of faith. I want to lose to a man who’s going to bring these conservative values to Illinois.”
“Now it’s all our job to get behind Darren and make sure that (we) go and try to beat J.B Pritzker in this general election,” Sullivan said.
Tuesday’s voting culminated a lengthy primary race that seesawed among several themes — Pritzker’s response to the pandemic, sporadic outbreaks of violent gun crimes in Chicago and the suburbs, civil unrest, a troubled national economy and skyrocketing inflation, gas and grocery prices, and, most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the right to abortion without undue government interference.
Bailey saw his candidacy grow among Republicans from its roots in downstate rural evangelical populism and sought to appeal to disaffected voters who say they feel neglected and view an Illinois government led by Chicago Democrats as one that exports urban policies and culture to conservative regions. It was similar to the appeal Trump engendered among the state’s Republicans and helped Bailey earn a late endorsement from Trump last weekend.
Bailey actively courted Trump’s support and, when asked if there was any daylight between the former president and himself, responded, “No.” After the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, Bailey said on Twitter that Republicans “should stand up for our Republican president, and stand against the yearslong nonstop personal and political assault against him led by an out-of-touch Democrat party and a few nominal Republicans.”
His victory was assisted by more than $40 million in advertising by Pritzker and the Pritzker-supported Democratic Governors Association, which ran ads attacking Irvin while labeling Bailey as “too conservative for Illinois.”
Those ads were coupled with commercials run by Bailey and from an allied independent expenditure political action committee that received a combined $17.1 million from another billionaire, ultraconservative mega-donor Richard Uihlein.
Irvin acknowledged his defeat, perhaps the costliest political collapse in state history, with an early concession speech at his Aurora headquarters where he repeated many of the themes of his campaign while continuing to complain about Pritzker’s meddling in the GOP primary.
”Tonight, J.B. Pritzker won the Republican primary for governor here in Illinois. He spent a historic amount of money to pick his own Republican opponent in the general election,” Irvin said. ”Listen, I wish Darren Bailey well as he moves on to the general election. I wish him well. And listen, I hope the governor is wrong in his assessment that he can easily defeat the opponent he paid tens of millions of dollars to face. But if this governor is correct, and if he does easily prevail, we as citizens must rise up.”
Pritzker, holding what he called a “kickoff” for the general election, revealed one fall campaign theme by tearing into Bailey for receiving Trump’s endorsement last weekend at a rural county fairgrounds near Quincy.
“A few days ago, Donald Trump came to our state and did what he does best — spew bile on the ground and hope it takes root in our soil and proudly standing at his side was the Republican nominee for governor of Illinois, Darren Bailey,” the governor said. “Let me be clear, someone who seeks out and accepts the endorsement of a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, twice-impeached former president does not deserve to come anywhere near the state’s highest office.”
Pritzker also attacked Bailey’s attempts to play regional politics with his attacks on Chicago, calling it a “cheap ploy” and saying anyone who wants the state’s top job has to “love all 13 million of the people that live here.” And in a veiled poke at his downstate opponent’s roots, Pritzker said, “and for those who need reminding, Illinois fought with the Union in the Civil War.”
By far the most conservative of the leading GOP field of candidates, Bailey was an outspoken critic of Pritzker’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies. He even went to court to challenge them, though his legal battles were ultimately unsuccessful. His anti-mitigation, anti-Pritzker fight was symbolized when he was thrown off the floor of the Illinois House in May 2020 for refusing to wear a required mask. He returned with a mask the following day, though his objections to the governor’s executive orders fueled his rhetoric.
The crew-cut sporting, Southern-drawl speaking Bailey runs a wealthy family farming operation and throughout his campaign he quoted a daily Bible passage to supporters on social media as he traversed the state.
Railing against Chicago as a “hellhole” and Pritzker and Democrats’ enshrinement of a right to an abortion in state law, Bailey is against abortion with the exception of saving the life of the mother, and is opposed to what he calls the “indoctrination” of children into same-sex and LGBTQ values. He also is opposed to gun regulation and has backed a repeal of the state’s Firearms Owner Identification card law.
Pritzker and the DGA that the billionaire governor financially supports, poured tens of millions of dollars in advertising into the GOP primary — giving a backhanded boost to Bailey among conservative Republicans by calling him “too conservative for Illinois.” At the same time, Pritzker and the DGA attacked his better-funded GOP rival, Irvin, thinking Bailey was easier to defeat in the fall.
Irvin’s candidacy was backed by $50 million from Citadel hedge fund founder and CEO Ken Griffin, a political nemesis of Pritzker who spent millions in past battles with the governor.
Griffin, who recently announced he was moving Citadel from Chicago to Florida, railed about crime in the city and blamed Pritzker for a lack of response. Fighting crime became the basic theme for the Aurora mayor’s campaign, though issues such as the inflation and the economy weighed more heavily with voters.
The announcement of Griffin’s decision to move Citadel also carried with it the political optics that he had thrown in the towel on Irvin’s candidacy — as well as funding future feuds with Pritzker. As questions about Irvin’s prospects of victory grew, some GOP support drifted to Sullivan, who was making his first-ever bid for elective office and accused his rivals of being professional politicians as he presented a blank-slate candidacy based on religious ideology.
The 2022 edition of the Republican race for governor began in February of last year when Schimpf, a former one-term state senator, launched his bid from his home base of Waterloo, south of St. Louis.
A conservative, Schimpf displayed a realist view of what a Republican governor could do with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. But despite displaying pragmatic qualities, he rarely promoted his military legal work that included acting as lead liaison for the trial of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. And despite being the first in, Schimpf’s candidacy failed to generate significant support and, as importantly, campaign cash.
A week after Schimpf announced, Bailey became the second downstate Republican with ties to the legislature to join the race.
Displaying contempt for the political “elite” in both parties, Bailey played to rural discontent as part of a group of Republican conservative lawmakers known as the “Eastern Bloc” that held populist rallies urging a “reopening” of the state to business amid the pandemic, decried Chicago’s influence and advocated that Illinois separate so Chicago can be its own state.
A month later, Rabine, who grew his family’s driveway paving firm into a multimillion dollar business service group, announced his candidacy.
But Rabine faced early stumbles with conservative voters, saying he didn’t know enough to be able to declare that Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory had been stolen as Trump has falsely claimed. Rabine also spread misinformation that questioned the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, falsely claiming they had caused thousands of deaths.
Before Trump endorsed Bailey this past weekend, Rabine had looked to gain the former president’s backing throughout the primary race. On behalf of Trump’s 2020 reelection, Rabine hosted a fundraiser at the Bull Valley golf course he owns that also featured Donald Trump Jr. He also has developed an association with Trump follower and Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk. But the endorsement never came and Rabine’s campaign languished
In September of last year, Sullivan, a venture capitalist from central Illinois near Springfield, launched his bid for the GOP nomination, funded, in part, by wealthy California benefactors, including some involved in cryptocurrency.
The $10 million in seed money provided Sullivan a base to run his campaign, at first as a self-described “non-ideological” candidate who looked for a lane from which to run before seeking to gain support from rural evangelicals by billing himself as the “faith, family and service” contender without political baggage.
Sullivan, a youthful telegenic candidate, sought to bill himself as an untainted political outsider who pledged to restore family values and parental rights.
By the end of the campaign, he pledged to voters that as a political outsider he could offer change the way Trump did.
“If GOP voters want America First policies in Illinois, the choice is clear — I’m your guy,” he said in a statement. On election eve, he said he patterned himself after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who may make a bid for the GOP nomination for president in 2024 in a challenge to Trump.
The dynamics of the primary campaign changed significantly in mid-January of this year when Irvin got into the race. The Black mayor of the second-largest city in the state, Irvin also promoted his background as a military veteran who had the backing of Griffin along with a slate of statewide GOP primary candidates.
Signifying Pritzker’s weariness to escalate further spending in a general election with Griffin, the Democratic governor put $90 million into his campaign fund days before Irvin’s announcement with much of it ultimately dedicated to defeating the Aurora mayor.
Irvin’s tightly scripted campaign also stumbled over flip-flops on positions from his role as mayor to governor candidate and he refused to answer questions about if he voted for Trump in 2020 and his views on whether abortion should be outlawed.
His Republican credentials also were challenged over his votes in past Democratic primaries — efforts he said were aimed at supporting local candidates who backed his agenda. Solomon, a native of Lagos, Nigeria, and a U.S. citizen, also was on the ballot. An attorney and educator, Solomon previously made unsuccessful bids for the legislature as a Democratic and Republican candidate.