CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Republicans on Tuesday chose conservative state Sen. Darren Bailey to take on Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire who easily won the Democratic nomination and who spent millions trying to get the rival he wants and increase his already sizable advantage in the state this fall.
Bailey, who defeated five other Republicans to win the nomination, is a farmer and staunch abortion opponent who received former President Donald Trump’s endorsement Saturday.
Pritzker immediately framed the race as a referendum on the former president, who Illinois voters twice rejected by double digits. Taking the stage at his victory party, Pritzker told the crowd, “I'm going to beat Donald Trump's candidate for governor, Darren Bailey.”
“Let me be clear, someone who seeks out and accepts the endorsement of a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, twice-impeached former president does not deserve to come anywhere near this state's highest office,” Pritzker said from a hotel in Chicago.
Bailey raised his statewide profile during the pandemic by opposing Pritzker’s COVID-19 measures. He sued Pritzker over a stay-at-home order the governor issued, and was escorted off the floor of the Legislature for refusing to wear a mask.
On Tuesday, Bailey criticized “elites” like Pritzker, the GOP establishment and others who say he cannot win in November. He pledged to outwork his opponent and stand up for regular, working people across Illinois.
“We were outspent by tens of millions of dollars in the primary and look what happened tonight. This is how it’s done,” Bailey said.
He later added, “Here’s a tip and some advice for J.B. Pritzker: Start packing, friend, because on Nov. 8, you’re fired.”
Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune who is seeking his second term, and the Democratic Governors Association spent heavily on advertising to help Bailey win the GOP primary, including with ads noting he is “100% pro-life.” While those messages have raised Bailey's standing with Republican voters, they are likely to hurt him in a general election in a place where Democrats control all statewide offices and Trump lost handily.
Republican Richard Irvin, a former prosecutor who was the first Black mayor of Illinois' second-largest city, was seen as a top candidate when he joined the race, with financial backing from billionaire Ken Griffin. Irvin 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. But despite Griffin sinking $50 million into Irvin's campaign, he was damaged by repeated attacks from his rivals, including Pritzker.
Unlike the other GOP candidates, Irvin avoided talking about whether he voted for Trump. The mayor of Aurora instead focused 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.
In a concession speech Tuesday, Irvin criticized Pritzker’s “meddling” in the primary and wished Bailey well in the general election.
“Listen, I hope this governor is wrong in his assessment that he can easily defeat the opponent he paid tens of millions of dollars to face. But if this governor is correct and if he does easily prevail, we as citizens must rise up," Irvin said.
Tim Zink, a 70-year-old retiree, wore a National Rifle Association T-shirt as he cast his ballot in the northern Illinois town of McHenry for Bailey.
“I just like the way he stands on just about everything," Zink said. He added that he didn't trust Irvin, whom he called “two-faced” and “friends with Pritzker.”
Joe Berstein, from the northern Chicago suburb of Highland Park, voted for Pritzker: “So far I think he’s doing a good job.”
The other Republican candidates are business owner Gary Rabine, venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf and attorney Max Solomon.
Pritzker defeated a much lesser-known rival, Beverly Miles, for the nomination.
Associated Press/Report for America reporter Claire Savage contributed to this report.