Republican Richard Irvin held his first news conference in two months on Monday but the gubernatorial candidate turned the rare campaign event into a case study in deflection.
On whether he voted for former president Donald Trump and whether he’d support another Trump presidential run, Irvin said, “That’s exactly what J.B. Pritzker wants you to be talking about.”
On whether he supports a federal ban on abortion, Irvin said, “You know, I’m running for governor of the state of Illinois. I’m not talking about what the federal government’s going to do.”
And on the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that could signal the overturning of Roe v. Wade’s protection of abortion rights, Irvin said, “I think it’s irresponsible for us to hypothesize and speculate on what the outcome will be.”
The Aurora mayor first entered the race for governor in January. He has given some one-on-one interviews to reporters, but his last news conference was in Springfield in March.
On Monday, he appeared at his campaign headquarters in Aurora alongside running mate state Rep. Avery Bourne to blame Pritzker for a COVID-19 outbreak that killed 36 veterans at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home.
“Thirty six families lost their loved ones due to negligence and incompetence of J.B. Pritzker and his administration,” Irvin said. “There needs to be accountability. J.B. Pritzker needs to answer to the families who senselessly lost their loved ones because of his negligence.“
Democrats and GOP primary rivals have accused Irvin of hiding. His campaign counters that he’s busy running Aurora, the second largest city in the state.
Irvin’s campaign for governor — funded by hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin — largely involves millions of dollars in television ads and mailers carefully constructing an image of a crime-busting, anti-corruption mayor.
On Monday, Irvin was indeed prepared to field reporters’ questions, if not necessarily answer all of them.
It’s all part of a strategy to navigate Irvin, a moderate, through a sea of conservative voters in the GOP primary, so he can move on to a face-to-face general election battle with Pritzker. And with Griffin pumping another $25 million into Irvin’s campaign coffers just last week, voters should be prepared to see even more of an onslaught of TV ads.
But after Monday, it’s unclear when they will see the next news conference.
Irvin did offer some clarity on what he has called his “pro-life” stance, saying he wants to reinstate parental notification for abortions, which Pritzker repealed in a law signed last year. It’s unexplained how Irvin would be able to repeal that law with a Democratic majority. He also said the exceptions to his anti-abortion stance include rape, incest and the health of the mother — the same answer he offered up in a television interview in February.
“I’ve been pro-life my entire political career,” Irvin said in response to a question about having in the past voted in Democratic primaries.
Irvin is courting both conservative and suburban women voters, so taking a position on the Supreme Court draft opinion one way or the other could lose him some votes — in the June primary or the November election. Irvin’s key rivals in the GOP primary are firmly anti-abortion, and most issued statements cheering on the potential reversal of Roe v. Wade.
In TV ads and mailers, Irvin has portrayed two of his primary rivals — state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, and venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan — as never-Trumpers. Irvin’s campaign even sent a semi-truck to troll a Bailey event in the suburbs last month. Plastered on the side of the truck was a sign with photographs of Bailey between former President Barack Obama and President Joe Biden and the words “Bailey Breaks with Trump.”
Irvin used Monday’s news conference to throw in some digs at Bailey and Sullivan, even as he dodged reporter’s question about whether the strategy wasn’t “just a bit disingenuous” when Irvin himself has voted in Democratic primaries in the past and refuses to say whether he voted for Trump.
“We’re here talking today about 36 veterans, 36 heroes of the state of Illinois that died because of [Pritzker’s] gross negligence,” Irvin said in response to one question about Trump. “He doesn’t want to talk about the his negligence and and the extremes that he’s done.”
In one exchange about whether he supports Trump, Irvin told reporters, “voters know my record.”
“They do not know your record,” a reporter shouted back.
After the news conference, Sullivan issued his own response, accusing Irvin of running a “campaign that seems to have no relationship whatsoever with the truth.”
“Richard Irvin yet again ducked important questions on abortion and his own Democrat voting record, distorted his own background, and blatantly lied about Jesse Sullivan,” the downstate venture capitalist’s campaign wrote.
Bailey tweeted out that he is “the only proven conservative leader in this race.”
“A lot of script reading & nervous dipping and dodging from the Irvin basement today,” Bailey’s campaign tweeted “Why did it take him several days to face the public? We need a Governor with the courage to lead and the integrity to tell the truth.”