J.B. Pritzker won the Democratic primary for Illinois governor Tuesday, the Associated Press projected, holding on to his frontrunner status through the finish line and setting the stage for what’s expected to be the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in the country’s history.
Pritzker and his running mate state Rep. Juliana Stratton defeated five other candidates, the most competitive of which were Chris Kennedy and state Sen. Daniel Biss.
Downstate school superintendent Bob Daiber, Chicago community organizer Tio Hardiman and physician Robert Marshall ran for the nomination as well.
A venture capitalist and heir to the Hyatt fortune, Pritzker is the fifth-richest person in Illinois, according to Forbes, who estimated his net worth to be around $3.5 billion.
Pritzker’s immense personal fortune allowed him to entirely self-fund his campaign, pouring more than $69.5 million into his committee in the months leading up to Election Day.
That cash bought Pritzker a massive field operation and perhaps most significantly, hours of advertising airtime, inundating television airwaves to tout his endorsements and vowing to “stand up” to President Donald Trump and incumbent GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner.
A powerful Democratic fundraiser for years, Pritzker was deeply involved in both of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaigns and has contributed to candidates including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. His political ties enabled him to capture support early on from many of the party’s leaders – like Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, the Cook County Democratic Party and more – though his past did come back to haunt him at various points throughout the primary.
The Chicago Tribune twice released wiretapped recordings of a series of phone calls between Pritzker and disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich – first in May, of Pritzker discussing in 2008 a political appointment with the now-incarcerated Blagojevich, who was convicted of, among several federal corruption charges, attempting to sell former President Barack Obama’s Senate seat.
Then, less than nine months later, more tapes from 2008 emerged – this time, of Pritzker commenting on possible African-American candidates for a Senate appointment, telling Blagojevich that Secretary of State Jesse White was the "least offensive" choice for Senate, calling former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones "crass," saying that choosing then-U.S. Rep Jesse Jackson Jr. "would be a nightmare,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
White, who had endorsed Pritzker before the tapes were made public, stood by his candidate as the campaign became in part a debate on race.
Those tapes also served as a convenient attack ad for none other than Rauner, another self-funding billionaire who began campaigning against the Democratic frontrunner months before even early voting opened.
Rauner, who spent a record-breaking $65 million on his entire 2014 campaign and reloaded his committee with another $50 million in Dec. 2016, survived a conservative challenge from state Rep. Jeanne Ives in the GOP primary.
Now, two of Illinois’ wealthiest businessmen-turned-politicians can turn their full attention to one another.
With seemingly endless wealth at their disposal, the gloves will certainly come off in the battle of the billionaires, which may very well surpass California’s roughly $280 million gubernatorial race in 2010.