President Pritzker? Gov not eyeing White House bid — yet

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker meeting with the Sun-Times Editorial Board.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker meeting with the Sun-Times Editorial Board. | Sun-Times file photo

Democratic consultants offered mixed reactions to Pritzker’s name being floated as a potential presidential contender, noting he has his own potentially tough reelection battle to worry about first.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s team says the first-term governor has no interest in “DC’s favorite parlor game,” a political tournament that tries to pick who may run for president.

Democratic consultants interviewed Monday said that’s probably for the best. They offered mixed reactions to Pritzker’s name being floated as a potential presidential contender, varying from he — and any other governor — would be a “fool” not to think about it, to warnings against looking too far ahead of his own 2022 reelection fight.

“Anyone who looks over the horizon is in danger of tripping over their feet because they’re missing right in front of them,” said one longtime strategist, who like others interviewed by the Sun-Times, would only speak on the condition their names not be used.

Pritzker’s name popped up in a Sunday political story in the New York Times that laid out options for a potential “plan B” presidential candidate as Democrats look ahead to 2024.

That planning has been brought on by declining poll numbers for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

A Pritzker spokeswoman shot down any notion that Illinois’ chief executive was looking to move to the White House so soon, saying he “wholeheartedly” supports the Biden and Harris team and “fully expects” the ticket to be reelected.

“Governor Pritzker is focused on addressing the challenges facing the people of Illinois and is not spending any time on DC’s favorite parlor game: Who will run for President next? He is proud to support the Biden-Harris administration,” spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a written statement. “Our country is coming out of a massive recession and working to end the pandemic.”

The New York Times story went on to say talk of a Pritzker presidential run is “abundant” in private.

One Democratic consultant brushed aside Pritzker’s appearance in the New York Times story.

While any governor would be a “fool not to have a twinkle in their eye” about a possible run for the White House, the consultant hadn’t heard Pritzker’s name floated in conversations with other party insiders about potential contenders.

Another Dem consultant said while it’s “probably something they have to take a serious look at … he’s going to face a very difficult reelection.”

“If Ken Griffin comes in with $50 or $100 million against him, it’s going to be a pretty epic battle, not unlike the spending with [former Gov. Bruce] Rauner, but Rauner was shackled with a lot of problems in 2018 and that was a pretty good Democratic year across the country,” the consultant said.

Pritzker’s job approval rating is “solid, but not spectacular” and because midterm elections often see the president’s party lose election contests, the governor “can’t really even have an eye on something else until after November.”

State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, of Waterloo, venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan and businessman Gary Rabine are currently vying for the Republican nomination to oust Pritzker.

One longtime Democratic strategist said even though Pritzker’s team says he’s focused on his reelection, the article indicates he’s likely looking ahead.

“I don’t think there’s any accidents when people make the New York Times political section,” the strategist said. “It’s a strong indication that he’ll be a candidate in the future. … Sometimes running for president is a good way to become vice president or be in a vice presidential contest.”

Pritzker’s name coming out now could both help and hurt the first-term governor who faces reelection next year.

Next year’s election cycle carries a chance of being “high risk and high reward” for Pritzker’s potential plans for the future, the strategist said.

Everything Pritzker’s campaign does in 2022 will be judged through a 2024 lens — for better or worse, the strategist said.

That includes how he performs “in front of the electorate,” with extra scrutiny likely given to how many votes he gets in the cities, suburbs and rural areas and who comes out to vote, the strategist said.

“That sends a signal to the Democratic party elites looking for whoever the next president is [about] what they can expect out of a candidate like this,” the strategist said. “I would not have dipped my toe into this field, if I was them, because now everything I’m doing faces much higher scrutiny.”

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December 13, 2021 at 04:45PM

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