Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker used his considerable financial resources to help set up a November showdown with State Sen. Darren Bailey, but as the state waits to find out whether that was the right call, the governor is ramping his fall campaign into high gear.
Pritzker, who easily cruised to the Democratic nomination in Tuesday’s primary, nevertheless has already spent $129 million on his reelection campaign. More than $30 million of that money went to advertisements that worked to tear down one-time Republican frontrunner Richard Irvin, and to build up Bailey.
The governor has indicated that he will go after Bailey as a politician whose agenda is too conservative for Illinois, and says that former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Bailey could backfire with voters in November.
“We now have an extremist, right-wing, Trumpy Republican nominee for governor,” he said in a one-on-one interview with NBC 5 Political Reporter Mary Ann Ahern. “It’s important for people to understand where he comes from.”
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If Tuesday’s primary is any indication, then the battle lines that will emerge in November will be clear. Democrats will likely run on a progressive platform, arguing strongly against the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade and pushing hard for election reform at the state and federal level.
Meanwhile, Republicans are expected to double-down on conservative causes in the state, with candidates backed by Trump winning both the Republican gubernatorial primary and several House races, including Rep. Mary Miller in the 15th district.
For Pritzker, drawing those distinctions with Bailey will be the key to his campaign, and he says he has no problem with that.
“I’ve always been open about who I am, what I stand for, and where I come from,” he said.
As for whether he worries that spending so much money will alienate some voters, Pritzker argued that getting his message out trumps concerns about the financial impact of the race.
“You should probably ask the Ken Griffin’s of the world and the Dick Uihlein’s of the world,” he said. “We’re just trying to make sure people know what I stand for.”
Some of that advertising money is already going back into TV, with new ads running as Pritzker aims to stake out a spot on the side of defending a woman’s right to an abortion.
He will also likely have to address criticism of conservatives who have gone after his record in fighting against the COVID pandemic, increases in crime, and the loss of jobs at companies like Caterpillar, Citadel and Boeing that have left Illinois in recent months.
Pritzker says that he remains focused on bringing companies into Illinois, and reminds residents that many middle-class jobs are still staying behind in Illinois from many of those companies.
“Yes, there are people in office jobs in Chicago who left the state, but there are also new jobs that have been created, factory jobs, good-paying jobs for middle-class families across our state,” he said.
The other thing Pritzker may have to guard against? Looking too far ahead. He has faced questions about potential presidential ambitions, and those queries only gained steam after he attended a Democratic fundraiser in New Hampshire recently.
“I’m just focused on Illinois,” he said. “This is what matters to me most. I love this job. I love this state, and I love being governor.”
When asked whether he would rule out a presidential run, Pritzker remained careful.
“I’m focused on the issues that matter to people in Illinois,” he said.