Pritzker downplays presidential buzz — but won’t commit to serving full term

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker laughs at a question during a news conference at the Marriott Marquis Hotel, Wednesday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The morning after a boisterous crowd of supporters cheered for “four more years” of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the freshly reelected Democratic incumbent said Wednesday he’s “planning” to give them that much time in office — but wouldn’t promise to finish his second term. 

Nor did the Gold Coast billionaire shut down talk of his own potential presidential aspirations following an election night speech that once again seemed tailored for a national Democratic audience that remains skeptical of President Joe Biden’s possible reelection bid. 

In Pritzker’s first news conference following his electoral drubbing of downstate Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey, the governor insisted he is “not focused on that at all.

“I am focused on serving as governor for the next four years. It’s really the most important thing to me. We have a lot of challenges that Illinois needs to overcome. We’ve got to work hard on it, and I’ll be doing that,” Pritzker said. He noted that Biden has said he intends to run for reelection, though the president said at a White House news conference on Wednesday that he won’t make a final decision until early next year.

“I look forward to supporting him,” Pritzker said. “I look forward hopefully to getting the [Democratic National] Convention here in Chicago so that we can re-nominate him and reelect him.”

But pressed on whether he’d commit to finishing all four years in the governor’s office regardless of how the 2024 presidential politics play out, Pritzker said: “I commit to you that I’m, you know, planning to be the governor for the next four years. We have too many things that we need to accomplish for the state.”

He added that “​​there’s no plan to do anything other than be governor for the next four years.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions from reporters during a news conference at the Marriott Marquis Hotel on Wednesday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Over the summer, Pritzker stoked speculation that he was testing the presidential waters with a series of speeches to Democratic crowds on the East Coast. Some in party circles have viewed him as a viable national candidate due to his strong stances on progressive issues and his essentially bottomless financial well of resources. 

His address Tuesday night again seemed to transcend Illinois issues, going after former President Donald Trump and the “hate” among his “extremist” followers in the Republican party. 

Pritzker said his latest round of soaring rhetoric was simply “expressing my values.”

“I really believe that the Republican party, and that especially includes the Illinois Republican party who nominated Darren Bailey, that they stand for the MAGA Republican ideas, Donald Trump. That party has been taken over entirely,” Pritzker said.

“I’m an Illinoisan through and through. I want to be the governor of Illinois for the next four years, and I’m excited to make sure that we’re accomplishing things for the people of Illinois and expressing our values.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at an election night rally at the Marriott Marquis Chicago after beating Republican candidate Darren Bailey in the Illinois gubernatorial election, Tuesday night, Nov. 8, 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Regardless of the governor’s future plans, most Illinois voters don’t think he should run for president in 2024 — and Biden shouldn’t either. A Sun-Times/WBEZ poll last month found almost two-thirds of respondents said they don’t want to see either man at the top of the Democratic ticket.  

On Wednesday, Pritzker detailed the “nice call” he got from Biden to congratulate him on his win. The president was “reaffirming his belief that we’ve really been imaginative and effective at using federal dollars here in Illinois, to get big things done for the people of Illinois, for working families,” Pritzker said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (left) and Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., (center) greet President Joe Biden at O’Hare International Airport last year.

Susan Walsh/AP file

It was apparently a longer phone conversation than the one Pritzker had with his conceding challenger, Bailey, after their contentious general election race. 

“He said very few words. … I said, ‘Sen. Bailey.’ He said, ‘Governor, I want to congratulate you.’ And I said, ‘Well, thank you very much. That’s very kind of you.’ And he said, ‘Okay, then.’ That was the entire call.”

Asked if the $150 million-plus Pritzker pumped into his campaign was cost-effective for a race he was expected to win easily, the ultra-wealthy governor said “Illinois is worth it.” He pointed to GOP donors Richard Uihlein and Ken Griffin, “two mega-billionaires who were coming against us, attacking everything that we stand for. 

“They spent over $100 million, and we’re not just going to sit and get pummeled by them,” Pritzker said. “We’re going to defend ourselves and tell people what we stand for and fight back.”

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November 9, 2022 at 06:33PM

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