Laura Washington: Here’s my free campaign advice for GOP governor candidate Richard Irvin: Duck. – Chicago Tribune

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In a breathtaking turn in the Illinois governor’s race, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin has morphed from a slam-dunk winner to an apparent sure loser.

Stick a fork in him, political observers are saying. His hopes and prayers for a Republican gubernatorial primary victory are kaput.

Armed with $50 million in donations from billionaire Ken Griffin, Irvin has blanketed the airwaves with ads that glorified the candidate and demonized his opponents.

Until a couple of weeks ago, Irving was considered the odds-on favorite among the six candidates competing in Illinois’ June 28 Republican gubernatorial primary: His competitors include state Sen. Darren Bailey, venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf (who has the Tribune Editorial Board’s endorsement), business owner Gary Rabine and Max Solomon, an attorney from south suburban Hazel Crest.

Then came a late-breaking poll that has turned the race on its head. Bailey is clobbering Irvin 32% to 17%, according to a Public Policy Polling survey of likely Republican primary voters taken June 6 to 7.

Sullivan came in third, at 11%. Rabine with 6%, Schimpf, 4%, and Solomon, 2%, rounded out the field. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.8 percentage points. And a huge 27% of voters were undecided in the race, according to the poll sponsored by the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ.

Some internal campaign polls are mimicking the trend.

All that bad news has compelled Irvin to temporarily pull his TV ads in Downstate Illinois and trim his campaign commercials in the Chicago area.

Now, it seems, Irvin is focusing on moderate Republican voters in Chicago’s collar counties. He has rebooted his message to argue that a vote for Bailey is a vote for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the likely Democratic nominee in the fall election. Irvin’s plea: Bailey cannot win in November.

Irvin made that pitch seven times at a 20-minute news conference in Bloomington, the Tribune reported recently.

In his ads, Irvin stubbornly continues to push a law-and-order, anti-crime message, though polls show that’s not the burning issue for Republicans in this race. Irvin’s avalanche of campaign ads is falling flat. And he may have maxed out his support among conservative Republican voters.

When you are hitting your head on the ceiling, and it’s crashing through the floorboards above, it’s time to change tactics.

These are the waning days of the campaign. Early voting is well underway, but turnout around the state has been tepid so far.

Here’s my free advice for Irvin. Keep your millions. Go dark. Pull all your ads. Head back to City Hall and pretend you are too busy running Aurora. Stop quacking and just duck. You are no longer the electoral target. You are the Invisible Man. Stay out of the picture and watch your opponents dirty up each other.

Let Sullivan take the fight to Bailey. Throughout the campaign, they have been in fierce competition for the hard-core conservative vote.

Let Bailey and Sullivan look around and catch the glint in each other’s eyes. Watch Sullivan, the photogenic family man and holy roller, go at Bailey, the Southern-drawled, rifle-toting farmer.

Sullivan can remind voters that Bailey is a hypocritical obstructionist who condemned Pritzker’s mask mandates while requiring that his employees wear them on his farm. This is a guy who dubbed Chicago, the state’s largest and most influential city, a “hellhole.”

Irvin could even lend Sullivan a hand by steering those undecided voters away from Bailey. Irvin could plow the rest of Griffin’s spare change into pumping up Sullivan.

The Aurora mayor can help Sullivan double down on his pitch that he is the only true conservative who will instill his bedrock conservative values in the state and rescue Illinois from its evil ways.

“Divide et impera,” Julius Caesar would declare, were he alive and a political flack in Illinois. Divide and conquer, that age-old political strategy.

It works. In the end, it might help Irvin slip through to a primary victory, on the steam of moderate GOP voters downstate and in Chicago’s collar counties.

Laura Washington is a political commentator and longtime Chicago journalist. Her columns appear in the Tribune each Monday. Write to her at LauraLauraWashington@gmail.com.

Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email letters@chicagotribune.com.

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June 20, 2022 at 09:38AM

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