Illinois Democrats got the opponent they wanted for incumbent Gov. J.B. Pritzker Tuesday as state Sen. Darren Bailey clinched the GOP gubernatorial primary.
The race was called for Bailey with about 33% of votes counted. He had 53.5% of the vote with venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan getting 16.9% and Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin with a disappointing 16.5%.
Pritzker, a billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, is already a heavy favorite to win a second term in November. But he and the Democratic Governors Association spent heavily to help Bailey win the GOP contest, even bankrolling ads noting he is “100% pro-life.”
Bailey also raised his statewide profile during the pandemic by opposing Pritzker’s COVID-19 measures, suing the governor over a stay-at-home order and getting himself escorted off the floor of the Legislature for refusing to wear a mask.
Such stances might have won Bailey the approval of hard-core Republican voters but will be greeted with skepticism or disdain in a state dominated by heavily Democratic Chicago and its increasingly blue suburbs — and one where Democrats control all the statewide offices.
Bailey rejected the idea that he cannot win and criticized “establishment Republicans” for contributing to decades of mismanagement in the state.
“We’re going to send a message to the Republican establishment that we will not be bullied into sacrificing our principles to elect their candidates,” he told a crowd at a campaign stop in rural Illinois this month.
Irvin, who would have been the Land of Lincoln’s first Black governor, was seen as a top candidate when he joined the race, with financial backing from billionaire Ken Griffin to the tune of $50 million.
But unlike Bailey and his four other rivals, Irvin avoided talking about abortion or saying whether he voted for Trump, focusing instead on issues such as crime in Chicago and legislation signed by Pritzker that he said made policing harder. He said he opposes abortion except in cases of rape or incest or to protect the life of the mother.
Irvin also argued that he was the only GOP candidate who could beat Pritzker in November because he could win votes from Republicans, independents and some Democrats.
“The reality is that I am the candidate that can win this race, which is why the attacks are coming,” Irvin said while visiting a manufacturing plant.
The other Republican candidates were Sullivan, business owner Gary Rabine, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf and attorney Max Solomon.
In Pennsylvania, for example, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro spent more than six figures on adds attacking state Sen. Doug Mastriano during the GOP primary, raising his profile and winning him the nomination.
Some Democrats have warned that the strategy could backfire in a hostile political environment highlighted by skyrocketing inflation — including record-high gas prices.
Pritzker, whose only challenger in the Democratic primary is Beverly Miles, has said he’s not afraid of any rival heading into November.
“I’ll face anybody on the other side of the aisle and we’ll win,” Pritzker said.
With Post wires