Gov. J.B. Pritzker began the week with a White House visit for an event marking the passage of bipartisan gun legislation and will end it Saturday with a speech at a fundraiser for Florida Democrats, further fueling speculation — and criticism — that he’s eyeing a presidential bid even as he seeks a second term as Illinois’ chief executive.
The visit to Florida, a key presidential swing state, comes roughly a month after he made a similar appearance in New Hampshire, which has long hosted the first presidential primary and is a traditional stop for candidates testing the waters for a White House run.
The Florida trip, during which Pritzker will deliver the keynote address at the state Democratic Party’s Leadership Blue Gala, also comes as Pritzker has raised his national profile with impassioned pleas for abortion protections and gun control in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and last week’s deadly mass shooting at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade.
Pritzker has eschewed talk of potential presidential ambitions, repeatedly saying he’s focused on winning another four years in the governor’s office and is supporting President Joe Biden for reelection in 2024.
But a sluggish economy and stalled legislative agenda have some Democrats looking for options to a second term for Biden, and Pritzker’s name has come up as one of the possible alternatives.
After speaking with Biden at the White House on Monday about their shared desire for a renewed federal ban on certain semi-automatic weapons, Pritzker told reporters that he and the president had not discussed politics or strategy for 2024.
Pritzker is speaking to Florida Democrats at the invitation of the party’s chairman, former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. A Pritzker campaign spokeswoman said the trip is part of his larger effort to support fellow Democrats who stand up for abortion access and other key party issues.
“Florida is in dire need of a pro-choice, Democratic governor, and Governor Pritzker is proud to support the Florida Democratic Party in their efforts to flip the state blue,” spokeswoman Natalie Edelstein said in a statement. “As a lifelong Democrat, Governor Pritzker is committed to supporting his party in every corner of our country.”
In Florida’s four-way Democratic primary to take on Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in November, Pritzker has contributed more than $26,000 to the campaign funds of U.S. Rep. Val Demings, federal campaign finance records show.
Pritzker, a billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune who owns a home in Florida, has not made contributions to any of the four candidates in the state’s Aug. 23 primary for governor. One of the candidates, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, received a $100,000 contribution from Pritzker in 2014, when the former Republican governor made an unsuccessful comeback attempt as a Democrat.
This year, Pritzker is “excited to support whomever the Democratic (gubernatorial) nominee is,” Edelstein said.
“If the governor can play even a small role in helping Florida Democrats elect a Black woman to the U.S. Senate (Demings), flip the governor’s office, and elect pro-choice, pro-science, pro-worker candidates to the legislature — he will gladly do so,” she said.
Pritzker has contributed to or campaigned for several other Democratic governors and nominees, including Govs. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Tim Walz of Minnesota, Tony Evers of Wisconsin, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Janet Mills of Maine and candidates Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Tom Sherman of New Hampshire.
The winner of Florida’s Democratic primary will face GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, himself the subject of presidential speculation.
Among DeSantis’ supporters, state records show, are Pritzker’s 2018 rival, former Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has contributed $650,000, and Pritzker’s political nemesis, billionaire Citadel founder Ken Griffin, who has given $5 million.
Back home, Pritzker’s Florida excursion is drawing criticism from his Republican rival in the November election, state Sen. Darren Bailey of downstate Xenia.
“Imagine if we had a Governor focused on Illinois instead of running for President,” Bailey said Wednesday in a post on his campaign Twitter account. “Crime is out of control and families and jobs are fleeing. People are paying too much at the pump and at grocery stores. We need a Governor in Springfield addressing these issues.”
Bailey made his own trip to Florida this spring to court the support of former President Donald Trump, who gave him his endorsement just days before Bailey handily bested five other candidates in the June 28 GOP primary.
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July 13, 2022 at 02:58PM