Pritzker, Bailey offer contrast in Illinois governor’s race

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In less than two weeks, Illinois voters will decide whether to reelect Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker to another four-year term or send the billionaire businessman packing in favor of Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, a downstate farmer who spent much of the past four years as Pritzker’s foil.

Pritzker, by all accounts, heads into the homestretch with a lead, built up through a relentless advertising campaign defining Bailey as "extreme" and "too conservative" for Illinois, highlighting the Republican’s positions on issues like abortion and guns as well as his ties to former President Donald Trump.

"Look at who Darren Bailey has surrounded himself with: They’re Jan. 6 insurrectionists," Pritzker told Lee Enterprises in an interview. "He went and sought the endorsement and got it from the No. 1 Jan. 6 insurrectionist, and that’s Donald Trump. I think that that is frightening and dangerous for Illinois and for democracy."

This warning from Pritzker, who defeated Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2018, has been paired with a positive campaign message portraying the incumbent as a competent steward of the state’s finances and a steady hand during the turbulent stretch of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

"I’m pleased about the progress that we’ve made in Illinois," Pritzker said.

Bailey’s campaign has been cash-strapped, limiting the candidate’s ability to counter Pritzker’s programming. The downstate farmer has also struggled to break through in the Chicago metropolitan area, where his conservative ideology has clashed with the sensibilities of more moderate and liberal voters in the state’s most populous region. 

He has received the most attention for his comments about Chicago, calling the nation’s third-largest city a "hellhole," "unruly child," and, most recently, "Pritzkerville," over crime rates that increased during the pandemic.

But beyond the name-calling that has grabbed headlines, Bailey’s campaign believes it has tapped into something — anxiety over heightened crime and concern over aspects of the state’s new criminal justice reform law, known as the SAFE-T Act — that will propel him to an unexpected victory.

A shifting national mood toward Republicans, buoyed by low approval ratings for President Joe Biden and concerns over high inflation, also serves to help Bailey in his uphill quest.

"It’s a unique political environment," said Illinois Republican Party chair Don Tracy. "There’s all these headwinds and tailwinds — it’s kind of hard to sort things out. But I feel good about it. It seems like things are moving our way."

If Bailey wins, he would be the first governor from outside of the Chicago metropolitan area since former Gov. Jim Edgar left office in 1999.

It’s a campaign that has put Illinois’ clear regionalism on full display, with Bailey’s downstate family farm nearly 250 miles and worlds away from Chicago, where Pritzker lives in a mansion on the city’s ritzy Gold Coast. 

Bucking expectations

A downstate farmer who speaks with a country twang, Bailey is undeniably different from most recent Republican gubernatorial nominees in the nation’s sixth-largest state.

His victory is not how establishment Illinois Republicans thought the primary would play out.

In December 2021, Lee Enterprises reported that billionaire Ken Griffin had planned to sink at least $200 million to fund a “slate” of candidates to run against statewide elected Democrats, principally Pritzker.

The plan was rolled out slowly in January, eventually culminating with Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin announcing his candidacy for governor with Griffin’s financial backing.

Many in establishment Republican circles viewed Irvin as a potentially strong challenger to Pritzker, citing his background as an Army veteran, prosecutor and the first Black mayor of the state’s second largest city along with what they believed would be the ability to appeal to moderate voters in the Chicago suburbs.

However, the plan unraveled quickly as Bailey and, to a lesser extent, other GOP primary candidates challenged Irvin’s conservative bonafides, citing his record of voting in more Democratic primaries than Republican primaries over the previous decade and his refusal to say whether he voted for Trump in 2016 or 2020.

Bailey received an assist from Pritzker’s campaign and the Democratic Governor’s Association in this effort as they spent more than $30 million on advertisements knocking Irvin while, in a non-so-subtle display of reverse psychology, calling Bailey "too conservative for Illinois." The ads only served to amplify Bailey’s message to primary voters.

Conservative donor and shipping supplies magnate Richard Uihlein also pumped in money for anti-Irvin advertisements in addition to giving millions directly to Bailey.

Though already on his way to victory, Bailey’s knockout punch came the final weekend before the primary when he received Trump’s endorsement. The former president is popular with GOP primary voters but lost Illinois twice by 17 points.

“He will crack down on the violent crime that is devouring our Democrat-run cities and restore the state of Illinois to greatness," Trump said, with Bailey standing just feet away on a stage in front of thousands of adoring supporters just outside of Quincy. "Darren has my complete and total endorsement.”

Days later, Bailey coasted to victory with more than 57% of the GOP primary vote in a six-man field, carrying all but two counties. 

Bailey’s strength clearly laid downstate, however, where nearly 57% of GOP primary ballots were cast versus about 39% in suburban Chicago, where the moderate wing that once dominated the party is based. 

A foil

Following Bailey’s landslide primary victory, Griffin — the state Republican Party’s primary benefactor — pulled up stakes and moved to Florida.

And unlike his pledge to bankroll Irvin’s campaign, Griffin refused to fund Bailey and the candidate as a result has been massively outspent by Pritzker. 

Bailey has an A rating from the National Rifle Association. He opposes abortion rights. And he promised Trump at that June rally that "Illinois will roll the red carpet out" for the former president in 2024. In all, he is the most conservative major party nominee for governor in recent memory.

Bailey’s primary victory in a sense gave Pritzker the perfect foil, allowing him to nationalize the race in a way that he might not have been able to if Irvin was the nominee.

“Let me be clear: Someone who seeks out and accepts the endorsement of a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, twice-impeached former president does not deserve to come anywhere near the state’s highest office,” Pritzker declared on primary election night in late June. 

Throughout the campaign, Bailey has also been bogged down by self-inflicted errors, such as encouraging supporters to "move on" and celebrate the Fourth of July in a social media video just hours after the mass shooting in Highland Park that left seven people dead.

The GOP nominee has also had to answer for remarks made in several of his videos posted to Facebook, including one where he said the amount of lives lost in the Holocaust "doesn’t even compare" to those lost to abortion.

“The attempted extermination of the Jews in World War II doesn’t even compare on a shadow of the life that has been lost with abortion,” Bailey said in the video, in 2017.

Bailey has sought to make inroads in the Chicago region, going as far as renting an apartment in Chicago’s John Hancock Center as a means of "immersing himself" in the city he once sought to separate from the rest of the state.

Though he is seeking to bring attention to the city’s heightened levels of crime, which rose significantly in 2020 and have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, Bailey’s comments about the city "seemed ill-considered and counterproductive," said John Shaw, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

"I think Sen. Bailey, by focusing on some issues that just do not seem to have broad appeal, has undermined his own campaign," Shaw said. "Obviously, his vitriolic remarks about Chicago, while they resonate nicely before a downstate audience, they don’t really fly through certainly Chicago and the suburbs. 

"You have one chance to make a first impression," he said. "And his first impression from the perspective of Chicago was not a good one."

An Emerson College Poll released last week showed Pritzker leading Bailey 50% to 41%, a nine-point advantage for the Democrat. This is tighter than the 51% to 36% advantage Pritzker had last month. 

In the poll, Pritzker leads Bailey 66% to 20% in Chicago and 52% to 41% in the suburbs, while Bailey leads Pritzker 53% to 40% downstate.

"Pritzker definitely has the lead and I’ll be extremely surprised if he doesn’t win," said Edgar, the former Republican governor who left office in 1999. "I do think it’ll be closer than some of the polls have it. I think it could be less than double digits. I think there is a trend toward Republicans right now throughout the nation and I think that affects Illinois. And particularly, it affects the suburbs."

Bailey has sought to hit Pritzker on the SAFE-T Act, the controversial criminal justice reform law that, among other provisions, will eliminate cash bail starting on Jan. 1. 

The law is opposed by the majority of county state’s attorneys — several of whom have sued over its pretrial detention provisions — and law enforcement groups. Republicans have called for full repeal. Democrats, while defending the law, acknowledge that changes need to be made.

Pritzker has declined to outline specific changes he will seek before the law’s pretrial detention reforms take effect next year. 

Bailey said Pritzker signed "a bill that attached a revolving door to every jail in the state of Illinois," and said he would work to repeal the law if elected.

However, Bailey has been more shy on stating how he would act on abortion, a significant topic in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade and returning the issue to the states.

Though opposed to abortion personally and in his legislative voting record, Bailey has expressed an acceptance that the state’s abortion laws would likely remain unchanged due to Democratic majorities in the General Assembly.

Pritzker, on the other hand, has been among the most vociferous advocates for abortion rights in the country, fashioning Illinois as an island for access in the Midwest.

In his tenure, Pritzker has signed the Reproductive Health Act, which enshrined abortion rights as "fundamental" in the state. He also supported the repeal of the Parental Notice of Abortion Act, which forced doctors to notify the parents of minors at least 48 hours prior to a procedure. Bailey said he supports the latter law’s reinstatement. 

On budget issues, Pritzker has touted the paying down of the state’s once-massive bill backlog and a string of budgets that have been viewed favorably by Wall Street. Though still holding the worst credit rating of any state, Illinois has received more than a half-dozen ratings upgrades since Pritzker was sworn in. 

Bailey said he would look to cut taxes and spending, but has declined to offer specific proposals as to how he would achieve that. He said he would implement "zero-based budgeting," which essentially means starting from scratch each new fiscal year as a means of ensuring every expense is justified.

The view from downstate 

Beyond the issues, there is an undeniable culture clash between Pritzker, a billionaire who hails from liberal Chicago and Bailey, whose conservative principles reflect views largely espoused downstate.

Bailey was a longtime school board member who knocked off an incumbent Republican in a primary to be elected to the Illinois House in 2018. He was eventually elected to the Illinois Senate in 2020. But he first gained celebrity and notoriety by challenging Pritzker’s COVID-19 emergency powers in 2020, becoming perhaps the most outspoken Republican in the state on the topic.

For many, he became the face of the resistance to Pritzker’s emergency orders, challenging the governor’s ability to continually extend the orders beyond their initial 30-day period. He successfully won an injunction in April 2020 that temporarily exempted him from the governor’s stay-at-home order.

He, along with attorney Thomas DeVore, became a popular draw at various “Reopen Illinois” rallies during spring and summer 2020. Makeshift “Bailey for Governor” signs foreshadowed what was to come. DeVore is the Republican candidate for attorney general, challenging incumbent Democrat Kwame Raoul.  

Much like Trump fashioned himself a champion of "the forgotten man," Bailey reflects the views of a region that often feels overlooked in a state dominated by its northeast corner. 

"Now there are some people, especially in the media, who think that a downstate farmer could never topple the richest politician in the country," Bailey said at Republican Day at the Illinois State Fair in August. "I say let them underestimate us. We will show them the power of hardworking people demanding change. We will show them what is possible when good people refuse to sit on the sidelines and refuse to settle friends. I feel this down to the soles of my boots — together we will win."

Though Pritzker has made a point to campaign statewide, it’s clear he is not likely to win in many places downstate, where "Fire Pritzker" signs are just as common as Bailey or Trump signs. 

"He obviously knows that he’s not wildly popular down here," Shaw said of Pritzker. "He sees the street signs and when he’s in parades, I’m sure words are thrown out at him that he doesn’t love to hear. But I think his approach to politics is a smart one."

Shaw said Pritzker has deployed the "Barack Obama philosophy of just go everywhere, explain your views, defend your positions, defend your policies and ask for people’s vote.

"And so I think he’s both done that on a political level and also he has a message and some accomplishments that fair-minded voters recognize," Shaw said. 

Though Pritzker’s political positions often do not overlap with many downstate voters, he has taken steps to address some of the major economic challenges facing Central and Southern Illinois.

The state’s $45 billion Rebuild Illinois capital program has disproportionately provided funds for downstate roads, bridges and other critical "hard" infrastructure. 

Some major projects that benefit downstate include regional ports in Cairo and Shawneetown and the Walker’s Bluff Casino in Williamson County.

"It used to be that people would say, ‘well, if you want to create jobs in Southern Illinois, open another prison.’ That’s how people reacted to job creation," Pritzker said. "It was only about state jobs or university jobs, and that’s all you could really get in those areas. That’s not true. We should be focused on private industry and, indeed, that’s something that I’ve done since I became governor."

One potential growth area to watch is the electric vehicle industry. Pritzker has sought to make Illinois "the Silicon Valley of EVs," and, to that end, signed last year the ‘REV Act,’ a tax credit program that incentivizes companies in the burgeoning EV industry to set up shop in Illinois. 

The first credits under the legislation were awarded to a Decatur manufacturing company in September. As result, 50 jobs will be created.

"In that 25 years, we’ve had an awful lot of politicians and governors come through Macon County making promises. Gov. Pritzker is here today not making promises, but he’s here to deliver and to deliver on something that is going to catapult our community into the future," Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe said at the time.

"He’s got a vision for Illinois, but more importantly to me and to all of us, he’s got a vision for Central Illinois and we are going to make it happen here," she said.


Rating Illinois’ 2022 campaign mailers

Mary Miller

Aesthetic: 5

Message: 5

Accuracy: 3

Overall effectiveness: 4.33

Comments: Simple and straight to the point. The type of ad you run as a Trump-endorsed candidate in a district where the former president carried nearly 70% of the vote.



Richard Irvin

Aesthetic: 4

Message: 5

Accuracy: 2

Overall effectiveness: 3.66

Comments: It’s a little busy, but the use of newspaper clippings on the front side effectively validates the Irvin campaign’s message about Democratic meddling in the GOP primary. However, some of the claims about Bailey and Sullivan on the backside are misleading.



Darren Bailey

Aesthetic: 5

Message: 5

Accuracy: 4

Overall effectiveness: 4.66

Comments: An issue-oriented mailer that keeps it simple. And that’s a good thing. It’s easy on the eye and makes good use of all-caps and the highlight tool to make sure that the reader sees "conservative" and "career politicians are what’s wrong with Springfield." If that’s all they take from the mailer, it’s a win.



Richard Irvin

Aesthetic: 5

Message: 4

Accuracy: 2

Overall effectiveness: 3.66

Comments: Nice design — talk show setup is original, even if those quotes were pulled out of context. But hey, that’s politics.



Darren Bailey

Aesthetic: 4

Message: 5

Accuracy: 2

Overall effectiveness: 3.66

Comments: A nice-looking ad that plays into the smoke-and-mirrors theme Bailey is trying to push about Irvin. But some of the claims made on the back side, such as Irvin’s alleged support for Joe Biden, are at the very least unproven.



Rodney Davis

Aesthetic: 4

Message: 4

Accuracy: 4

Overall effectiveness: 4

Comments: Just a solid mailer. Though slightly word-heavy, there is an effective use of bold font in all-caps to highlight words they would like to emphasize, such as "Stop out-of-control spending" and "Finish President Trump’s wall." Clever.



Richard Irvin

Aesthetic: 4

Message: 5

Accuracy: 3

Overall effectiveness: 4

Comments: One of Irvin’s best attack ads, both visually and content-wise. Though some of the talking points on the front side continue to mislead, the back is effective in using newspaper headlines to validate their message. On the front, the black-and-white photos of Bailey and Sullivan suggest a nefariousness.



Richard Irvin

Aesthetic: 3

Message: 3

Accuracy: 2

Overall effectiveness: 2.66

Comments: The concept here is not necessarily a bad one, but the Irvin campaign tries to pack in too much information. It’s very wordy. Also, Bailey and Sullivan are smiling. It someone just picked it up and saw the visual without reading, it could be mistaken as a positive advertisement for the two.



Darren Bailey

Aesthetic: 5

Message: 5

Accuracy: 4

Overall effectiveness: 4.66

Comments: Sometimes less is more. This ad has very simple bullet points stating clearly what Bailey’s message is, but it’s not busy. Not a bad feel-good mailer to introduce yourself to voters.



Mary Miller

Aesthetic: 4

Message: 4

Accuracy: 5

Overall effectiveness: 4.33

Comments: This is an official House mailer from Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland. As such, it focuses on her record in Congress specifically on the issue of abortion. The picture of a baby adds an emotional appeal that will resonate with voters who hold anti-abortion views. It’s easy to understand. 



Richard Irvin

Aesthetic: 5

Message: 4

Accuracy: 2

Overall effectiveness: 3.66

Comments: This ad takes up Bailey on one side and Sullivan on the other. One of the more nice-looking ads with a very clear message on each. However, points dinged for some misleading statements.



Richard Irvin

Aesthetic: 2

Message: 3

Accuracy: 2

Overall effectiveness: 2.33

Comments: Aesthetically, it’s cartoonish and tacky. But the message is in line with what the Irvin campaign has been trying to hammer home with voters, even if it is not all that accurate.



Richard Irvin

Aesthetic: 2

Message: 2

Accuracy: 2

Overall effectiveness: 2

Comments: You see what they were going for in this ad, but they don’t quite stick the landing. Visually, it is difficult at first to discern the faces of Bailey and Sullivan. Also, despite his unpopularity, former House Speaker Mike Madigan is not a well-known face.



Rodney Davis

Aesthetic: 4

Message: 4

Accuracy: 3

Overall effectiveness: 3.66

Comments: Solid mailer that lands some punches against Rep. Mary Miller. One of your more conventional "taking a kernel of truth and spinning it" type of mailers. But it’s effectively visually.



Richard Irvin

Aesthetic: 3

Message: 3

Accuracy: 1

Overall effectiveness: 2.33

Comments: The Irvin campaign has made a concerted effort to paint Bailey, a 2020 Trump delegate, as a liberal Obama-Biden supporter. It’s misleading at best, downright false at worst.



Richard Irvin

Aesthetic: 4

Message: 4

Accuracy: 2

Overall effectiveness: 3.33

Comments: One of Irvin’s more creative ads portrays opponents Bailey and Sullivan as "wolves in sheep’s clothing," alleging that the pair are secret Democrats. The message is clear. It’s just not very accurate.



Richard Irvin

Aesthetic: 2

Message: 4

Accuracy: 2

Overall effectiveness: 2.66

Comments: This ad plays to Irvin’s tough-on-crime message. But it contains inaccuracies, such as his claim that he "called in the National Guard" to stop looting. Only the Governor has that authority.



Contact Brenden Moore at 217-421-7984. Follow him on Twitter: @brendenmoore13

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Region: Decatur,City: Decatur,Politics,Region: Central

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October 28, 2022 at 09:40PM

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