The big-money contest to determine the Republican challenger to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is finally nearing its end, and candidates are making their final pushes to sway voters ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
The election, which has seen millions of dollars pumped in from several high-profile billionaires, is shaping up to the most expensive non-presidential race in American history.
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, who had the lion’s share of the early momentum and received nearly $50 million in donations from businessman Ken Griffin, has faded in the polls in the lead-up to the election, dropping to third in some surveys.
“I think the problem that Mayor Irvin had was that he couldn’t decide who exactly he wanted to be,” Southern Illinois University professor John Jackson said.
Irvin also faced a withering spree of ad spending from the Democratic Governor’s Association and from Pritzker himself, with a combined $30 million spent on advertising against the early frontrunner.
On the election’s eve, it is instead State Sen. Darren Bailey that seems to have the upper hand. He has spent recent days flying across the state, visiting all 102 of Illinois’ counties, and he has also gained traction thanks to the endorsement of former President Donald Trump over the weekend.
“There were people out there that were just checked out,” he said. “Now they’re seeing this (endorsement), so now they’re thinking ‘we have an option?’”
Bailey had sought out Trump’s endorsement for months in the lead-up to the election, and finally got the nod at a rally supporting Rep. Mary Miller, who is locked in a heated battle with Rep. Rodney Davis in Illinois’ 13th District.
The state senator from Xenia also has earned the support of shipping supply magnate Dick Uihlein, who has given Bailey nearly $10 million in donations.
Bailey jumped into the public consciousness during the COVID pandemic in 2020, suing Pritzker’s administration over its stay-at-home order. The senator has been a frequent critic of Pritzker’s handling of the pandemic, and says that he feels that a new leader is needed to address the problems that Illinoisans face.
“I think Governor Pritzker is delusioned in everything he does,” Bailey said. “He’s a failed leader. What has he done to help all of us?”
For his part, Pritzker has largely focused his ad spending against Irvin, but the Democratic Governor’s Association has also run ads against Bailey, arguing that he is too conservative to guide Illinois forward and criticizing his connections to Trump.
“With this new endorsement from Trump himself, there’s no question: Darren bailey is the most MAGA, far-right conservative candidate in this race,” DGA Illinois Press Secretary Yael Sheinfeld said in a statement. “A would-be Governor Bailey poses a serious threat for Illinoisans everywhere. Voters know Darren Bailey is far too conservative for our state.”
Pritzker will hold his Election Day event in Chicago, while other GOP candidates continue to barnstorm around the state. Bailey will be in Desplaines on Monday night. Sullivan, who is hoping for a large turnout on Tuesday, will be in Lombard for an event.