Despite robust ad campaign, Richard Irvin doesn’t meet the press much

Republican gubernatorial candidate and Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin uttered that line at least 17 times during a Monday press conference that quickly went off the rails.

Irvin called the presser to blast Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his administration’s handling of a November 2020 outbreak of COVID-19 at the LaSalle Veterans Home that killed 36 elderly military veterans.

But it was the first time in more than two months that Irvin had faced reporters, so when it came time for questions, the floodgates opened.

Skipping the niceties of asking some on-topic questions, the dogged Illinois political press corps took the rare chance to confront Irvin on his views about several hot-button topics.

Among them, his views on abortion should Roe v. Wade be overturned and whether it is fair for his campaign to misleadingly attack fellow Republican candidates as former supporters of Barack Obama and Joe Biden when he will not say whether he voted for former President Donald Trump in 2016 or 2020.

On abortion, Irvin reiterated that he is “pro-life,” but supports exceptions for rape, incest and the life and health of the mother. 

But asked if he would support a federal ban on abortion as some top Republicans have suggested, Irvin dodged, saying “I’m running for governor of the state of Illinois. I’m not talking about what the federal government’s going to do.”

When he was asked about whether he would support Trump in 2024 should the former president run, Irvin deflected, saying that “that’s exactly what J.B. Pritzker wants you to be talking about.”

This despite Irvin himself not saying whether he voted for Trump in 2016 or 2020, a fair question since he’s pulled Democratic primary ballots in several previous elections. Irvin again did not answer that question, instead leaning into talking points to attack Bailey and Sullivan. 

Irvin, a frontrunner as the candidate supported by billionaire Ken Griffin, appeared unprepared to answer basic questions about his voting record and positions on key issues. He appeared, in a word, rattled.

And the headlines reflected this uneven performance, with more of the coverage focusing on Irvin’s deflections than the stated purpose of the presser, to criticize Pritzker for his handling of a COVID outbreak at a state-run veterans home. 

Simply put, what happened Monday is what happens when a candidate does not answer reporters’ questions for more than two months.

Irvin last faced a press gaggle in early March after filing his petitions to get on the June 28 primary ballot. Before that, he did a series of interviews with Chicago media outlets. Those appearances were also met with mixed reviews.

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, left, and state Rep. Avery Bourne shake hands and speak with those gathered for lunch March 7 at the Downtown Café in Decatur. Irvin is among GOP candidates for governor in the 2022 election; Bourne, of Morrisonville, is his running mate. 


Besides that, Irvin has largely stayed away from earned media and in-person forums with his fellow candidates, instead relying on a deluge of television and digital advertising along with mailers to get his message out. 

He’s been able to do this with the help of Griffin, who’s dumped $45 million into Irvin’s campaign. No other campaign has the resources or bandwidth to match this paid media strategy. 

“It strikes me as kind of the Aurora equivalent of the ‘Rose Garden strategy’ about someone who feels like he is well-positioned in the primary,” said John Shaw, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. “He obviously has ample resources. And so he feels like it’s a plausible strategy to stay above the fray — to avoid candidate forums, to limit interaction with the press and hope that a huge infusion of funds from a wealthy benefactor will allow him to have enough air time to win the primary.”

But just because a strategy is effective doesn’t mean it’s right. 

When Irvin — or any of the other candidates for that matter — buys advertising, he controls the narrative.

It’s allowed him to create an alternate reality in which Bailey, a 2020 Trump delegate, is actually a closeted Biden supporter. Or where Sullivan is a secret liberal.

All while not having to answer for his own primary voting record or whether or not he voted for his party’s nominee in the previous two elections. 

Whereas when candidates face reporters, they get asked tough questions, ones frankly that the public deserve answers to.

Irvin’s position on abortion is probably the best example given the impending decision on the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade. But whether he voted for his party’s nominee in the previous election seems like it would be an important one for GOP primary voters to know too.

Of course, this isn’t to say that Irvin hasn’t been traversing the state. He has, and it’s been well-documented by his campaign, which insists he will be more open to the media as the primary date approaches.

The campaign is launching a statewide tour after early voting gets underway May 19. They said Irvin will do media availabilities in several markets across the state that weekend.

He will also participate in a candidate debate hosted by NBC Chicago on May 24 and may participate in more. 

“As a former prosecutor who put violent criminals behind bars, a mayor who cut spending to lower taxes and the only Republican candidate for governor to take on Mike Madigan and win, Mayor Irvin looks forward to sharing the stage with his opponents which will prove he is the best candidate to roll back the crime, corruption and high taxes we’ve seen under J.B. Pritzker,” said Irvin spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis. 

When Irvin met the press earlier this week, it did not turn out as planned. 

For the sake of Illinois voters, let’s hope that does not discourage him from engaging with the media more.

Not doing so would be a disservice to voters, who will not get the answers they deserve from their candidates if they are not subjected to media scrutiny.

Also, practice makes perfect. Candidates who answer questions regularly are better at it.

Though Irvin may be able to get by with a “Rose Garden strategy” against his relatively underfunded GOP opponents, they “are hard to pull off” in the long run, Shaw said. 

And answering questions is part of the job he’s running for. If he wants the job, he better get used to it. 

Contact Brenden Moore at Follow him on Twitter: @brendenmoore13

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May 11, 2022 at 02:52PM

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