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Gov. J.B. Pritzker and GOP nominee Darren Bailey come out swinging after primary election wins – Chicago Tribune


With Darren Bailey’s nomination as the Republican candidate for governor to challenge Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Illinois voters will have a choice for state chief executive this fall between candidates representing the opposites of a chasmic political ideological divide.

For Bailey, the fall campaign comes down to trying to wage class warfare on Pritzker, labeling him as a liberal “out-of-touch, trust fund, elitist billionaire” unable to relate to the problems of common citizens.

At the same time, Pritzker’s campaign will be fighting a culture war against Bailey’s social conservatism while attacking the state lawmaker for his endorsement from former President Donald Trump — a two-time loser by 17 percentage points in Illinois.

“Darren Bailey cannot side with the insurrectionists at the Capitol, assert that the 2020 election was stolen and say that women and their doctors should be jailed for having an abortion even in cases of rape and incest and expect to be handed the keys to the governor’s office,” Pritzker said Tuesday night at what he billed as a general election “kickoff event” at a South Loop hotel.

“I believe deeply in the fundamental rights of every person to live a life of their own design with accessible health care, quality education, safe schools, clean air, reproductive freedom and civil rights,” Pritzker said. “A place where people can be who they are and love who they love, without fear.”

Bailey’s victory was assisted in part by Pritzker and the Pritzker-backed Democratic Governors Association, with millions of dollars in ads and mailers asking Republicans if the state senator was “too conservative for Illinois.” Voters delivered an answer. Now, for the general election campaign, Pritzker and the DGA will flood voters with the slogan along with reminders of Bailey’s ties to Trump.

Pritzker’s recent travel to address New Hampshire Democrats has sparked speculation about his potential interest in a presidential run in 2024 should President Joe Biden not seek reelection. But on Wednesday he denied his attacks at Trump were aimed at a national audience and said of presidential speculation, “I love the job that I have now. I’m running for this job for another four years. I am looking to be the governor of Illinois for four more years.”

“Forget Donald Trump,” Pritzker said. “This guy (Bailey) is opposed to a woman’s right to choose even in cases of rape or incest. This is somebody who does not believe in standing up for the city of Chicago, thinks it ought to be a separate state from the rest of Illinois. This is somebody who called Chicago a ‘hellhole.’ ”

“So no, this is about the candidate that the Republicans have decided should be their standard-bearer,” Pritzker added.

But on Wednesday morning, Bailey reinforced his labeling of the city as a “hellhole.” Bailey first made the comment in a GOP debate during the primary campaign and he reiterated his stance during an appearance on the “Steve Cochran Show” on WLS AM-890 the day after getting the primary nod.

“I’m gonna tell you most of those 9 million people (in the Chicago region), I believe, agree with that statement,” Bailey said.

Asked to name a specific solution to address a problem in Chicago, Bailey said, “Well, I’m going to do what I’ve been doing. I’m going to stand up and name the problem.”

Throughout his public tenure, Bailey has ardently opposed many of the progressive social stances that Pritzker has pushed — issues that have become more of a focus in recent weeks as the conservative majority in the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the landmark decision that provided the right to have an abortion without undue government interference.

Bailey is opposed to abortion in all cases except to spare the life of the mother, while Pritzker has been a national advocate of abortion rights and helped enshrine that right into state law. Pritzker’s also supported other laws that allow taxpayer funding for abortions and remove a requirement of parental notification for minors seeking the procedure.

Symbolizing the importance the abortion issue is for Pritzker., the governor’s campaign launched its first salvo of the general election race on Wednesday with a new TV ad focused on Bailey’s views on abortion, which the ad described as “extreme.”

Bailey has vowed to repeal taxpayer-funded abortions and reinstate the parental notification law and he has been sharply critical of Pritzker’s vow to make the state a haven for reproductive rights for women across the country. The lawmaker from downstate Xenia also has expressed opposition to gay and transgender rights and has complained of a “woke, liberal agenda” that includes indoctrinating children about sex. He also opposes gun regulation and wants a repeal of the state’s firearm owner’s identification card.

“Darren Bailey does not represent Illinois values,” Pritzker said. “The Darren Baileys of this world want us to feel alone in a struggle that we’re all facing together. They want to distract us into believing that same-sex marriage, Black history, Disney World and library books are more of a threat to our children than AR-15s and ‘ghost guns,’ ” he said. “We’ve held the line here in Illinois. We’ve made sure that this state remains an island of freedom among a rising sea of right-wing extremism.”

Bailey said he won’t back off his conservatism for the general election, even to appeal to Chicago voters, saying “people are receptive. They’re ready for something different. We will stay consistent with our message and our work ethic and will not slow down. I have no doubt we will prevail.”

Bailey, who had, like Trump, appealed to disaffected conservative voters who felt government had forgotten them, said on Tuesday evening, “Tonight, your voices were finally heard — voices of working families, parents, taxpayers, law enforcement and everyday citizens. Voices from the farms, the suburbs, the city of Chicago.”

Bailey was assisted in his win by $17.1 million from ultra-conservative mega-donor Richard Uihlein, who owns the ULINE office supply business. But it’s unclear how much Uihlein will pump into Bailey’s general election campaign.

“Billionaire Pritzker has deep pockets, but the pockets of the working people, taxpayers, law enforcement, students and parents are getting smaller every day,” Bailey said.

In his nomination acceptance speech, Bailey largely shied away from controversial social issues, even going so far as to say that “when we win, Springfield will stop trying to control people’s lives and start working to make them better.”

As much as it was a Bailey victory, it was also an ignominious defeat for the state’s Republican establishment, which lined up behind Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin and Ken Griffin’s $50 million financial investment in him and a slate of statewide candidates. In addition to Irvin’s loss, the slate’s candidates in competitive primaries for attorney general and secretary of state also were defeated.

The last candidate to enter the field, Irvin was pitched as an inevitable nominee who could take on Pritzker and statewide Democrats. Party insiders spoke of the campaign’s arrogance in gaining endorsements, warding off additional challenges and attempting to dictate a slate of candidates without internal debate.

At the same time, the largely moribund Illinois GOP apparatus served as little more than an echo chamber for Irvin’s campaign, pushing his agenda in its fundraising emails to party regulars and fundraising donors.

While Irvin is an adept retail campaigner, his campaign offered few opportunities for him to work the stump. Instead most of the work was left to his barrage of TV ads.

But Irvin’s focus on fighting crime — an issue pushed by Griffin — was not a top concern of Republican voters. And the ads also portrayed Irvin as having a bullying image that failed to demonstrate any empathy the candidate had for problems that concerned voters, such as inflation.

In a statement released Wednesday, Griffin said the money spent by Pritzker and Democrats against Irvin “demonstrated he was the right candidate” and “I am proud to have supported his campaign.”

“Richard Irvin is the leader Illinois needed to overcome the destruction caused by J.B. Pritzker’s failed progressive agenda,” Griffin said, adding he “will continue to support candidates in elections across America who champion education, public safety and economic opportunity and who put the interests of the people first.”

Griffin did not mention whether he’d financially support Bailey.

Bailey and followers of his brand of arch-conservatism have long chafed under the more moderate Republicans who controlled the party organization for decades. But his victory gives those conservatives who have been on the outside looking in an opportunity to take control, sending the Illinois GOP significantly further rightward, a shove helped by Trump’s presidency.

There’s no secret that Bailey has had differences with Republican leaders in the House and Senate.

He recounts his disdain for state Rep. Avery Bourne of Morrisonville, Irvin’s running mate, for chastising him for not wearing a mask in the makeshift House floor at the Bank of Springfield Center as required by House rules during the height of the pandemic in May 2020. Kicked off the floor by a vote of the chamber, including by many of his GOP colleagues, he returned the next day wearing a mask.

Bailey also backed some Republican legislative candidates over those pushed by party leaders.

“We will take back our government from the political elites and the failed establishment from both parties,” Bailey vowed.

The GOP’s more moderate wing, reeling from the collapse of Irvin’s candidacy, is now fearful of the impact of Bailey’s candidacy as he leads the ticket for Springfield offices.

“We are really going to get our a– handed to us,” predicted one Republican in party legislative leadership, where the GOP has been a super-minority to House and Senate Democrats. “If we thought where we were was bad, this is going to be a helluva lot worse.”

But Bailey said people should dismiss the naysayers.

“Springfield and the political elites have failed every one of us and now the elites and the press say that Pritzker is a shoo-in. They say our fate’s set, that a farmer can’t beat a billionaire,” he said. “Friends, the funny thing is these same people said that we couldn’t win the primary.”

Chicago Tribune’s Madeline Buckley contributed from Effingham.

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