Like Chicago’s downtown on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, a river of green has flowed through TV sets ahead of Tuesday’s primary vote, as governor candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising during the long campaign.
The frenzied final weekend of in-person campaigning supplements the nearly $65.7 million spent by candidates and interest groups on TV commercials in the governor race so far. The contest could become the most expensive race to be Illinois’ chief executive in state history.
That TV spending total — in just the primary — is more than the record $65.3 million Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner spent on his entire 2014 campaign.
Democratic candidate J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune who has put a record $69.5 million in his bid, has spent nearly $33.5 million in TV advertising, according to a study by Advertising Analytics LLC for NBC News. He has used the spots to try to both introduce himself to voters in his first statewide campaign and attack his lesser-funded opponents.
Pritzker said his money was aimed at “trying to build a campaign that will beat Bruce Rauner’s, who’s been so terrible for working families.”
Rauner, a wealthy private equity investor who pumped $50 million into his re-election campaign back in December of 2016, has spent $16.5 million on TV so far — assailing both Pritzker and his Republican primary challenger, state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton.
Of the remaining money, nearly $4.5 million has been spent by Democratic contender Daniel Biss, a state senator from Evanston, $2.8 million by rival Chris Kennedy, a businessman from Kenilworth, and another $2.8 million by Ives, the study said. inging his out-of-pocket donations to more than $1.2 million.
In addition to ads from the candidates themselves, outside groups have paid big to oppose and support candidates. And there’s nearly a half-million dollars of late money pumped into TV ads from the Democratic Governors Association that attack — but serve to reinforce — Ives conservative credentials while criticizing Rauner.
Rauner and the Illinois Republican Party he subsidizes decries the DGA move as an assist to Ives. It comes as the governor spent months seeking to link Pritzker to Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, before turning his focus on Ives as the primary drew closer.
“What the Democrat Governors Association is doing is promoting Ives. They want Ives to win because they know they could beat her,” Rauner said Saturday.
“Pritzker’s always going to be the nominee. We don’t want him getting momentum and we want the truth known. He’s a corrupt insider. We want the truth known about Pritzker. He’s going to be the nominee. Madigan rigged the system for him already,” Rauner said.
Ives, who once said she needed $10 million to run an effective race against Rauner, has raised nearly $4 million — including $2.5 million from conservative mega-donor Richard Uihlein of Lake Forest. In recent days, Vincent Kolber, a transportation asset manager from Chicago, loaned her $250,000 in addition to $410,000 he already had given.
Ives said Saturday she’ll have enough money to keep airing ads through Tuesday despite a fundraising email pitch from her campaign Saturday, seeking money for “our final chance to get on TV.”
But TV ads can only go so far. While commercials fill the airwaves, candidates over the weekend focused on delivering their voters to the polls on Tuesday.
Since March 1, Pritzker has given more than $256,000 to local politicians and ward organizations, including $110,000 to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, $16,500 to 34th Ward South Side Ald. Carrie Austin and $15,000 to Cook County Clerk candidate Karen Yarbrough, who also chairs the Proviso Township Democratic organization.
On Sunday, Pritzker was planning to meet South Shore voters and visit phone bank volunteers.
Kennedy made stops on Chicago’s South Side, where he shook hands with church members and spoke about the area’s food deserts, residents’ lack of access to pharmacies and mental health care, shuttered schools and the trauma gun violence has on communities.
“It’s time that we put a new and righteous face in our city and in our state,” he said during an 8-minute speech at the Providence Missionary Baptist Church on South Ashland Avenue, drawing a connection with one of the service’s readings.
And Biss campaigned at churches with his running mate, state Rep. Litesa Wallace in her home city of Rockford ahead of a rally in far northwest suburban Crystal Lake.
Chicago Tribune’s Kim Geiger contributed.