SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — Gov. J.B. Pritzker sailed to reelection over challenger Darren Bailey in a race characterized by near-constant acrimony and outsized spending.
Pritzker, a Democrat who hadn’t held political office before his gubernatorial victory in 2018, won a second term buoyed by a campaign on fiscal stability and taxpayer relief. He peppered his stump speech with claims that Bailey, a first-term state senator and farmer from southern Illinois and a conservative supporter of former President Donald Trump, is “too extreme” for Democrat-heavy Illinois.
A 57-year-old billionaire equity investor and philanthropist, Pritzker's victory Tuesday should further raise his national profile, which he promoted with a trip this year to the early primary state of New Hampshire and by raising millions of dollars for Democrats across the country. But challenged by Bailey during two televised debates, he said he intended to serve his entire four-year term and support President Joe Biden for reelection in 2024.
Pritzker and his Republican challenger had accused each other of being out of touch and too extreme ahead of Tuesday’s election.
Pritzker took office in 2019 after trouncing an increasingly unpopular GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose quest for a far-reaching conservative agenda was stymied by a powerful Democratic-controlled Legislature. The heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune pounded the airwaves with ads labeling Bailey with an ideology beyond Rauner's, one that is out of step with most Illinois voters on issues such as abortion access and restrictions on guns, and has no concrete proposals to prevent crime, which was the focus of his campaign.
Bailey says Pritzker's drive to be “ the most radical leftist governor in America” is decimating the state by coddling criminals, offering abortion without restriction and spending too much on social programs.
Pritzker campaigned this year on balancing the budget for four years, offering $1.8 billion in taxpayer relief last spring, and paying down a mound of debt, mostly in overdue bills to vendors. But spending has increased, partly because of federal COVID-19 pandemic relief dollars that Bailey said were used to balance the books. Pritzker has stressed that money was used for one-time relief measures.
Bailey, 56, has made crime in Chicago a centerpiece of his campaign and was buffeted by ridicule when he called the nation's third-largest city a “crime-ridden corrupt hellhole." That prompted him to rename it “Pritzkerville” because “every one of Gov. Pritzker's extreme policies are destroying the city.” Pritzker pointed to investments in state police and crime detection, provisions he's quick to point out Bailey voted against. But the Republican says he opposed those moves as part of massive legislation drafted with little of his party’s input.
From the southern Illinois town of Xenia, Bailey strongly supports gun rights while the governor wants to ban semi-automatic rifles. Bailey has mocked him for not getting that done in four years with supermajority Democratic control of the House and Senate.
Despite the likelihood that control continues, Bailey has vowed to repeal the SAFE-T Act Democrats adopted last year, a criminal justice overhaul that sets new standards for policing and discipline, restricts the use of force against criminal suspects and ends the use of cash bail for violent offenders.
Eliminating cash bail means pretrial freedom for people suspected of horrendous crimes, Bailey contends. Pritzker says judges will be able to keep violent suspects locked up and prevent the wealthy from buying their freedom while awaiting trial.
Abortion access has made headlines in races nationally after the Supreme Court overturned the 50-year-old Roe v. Wade opinion legalizing the procedure. Illinois has no restrictions on abortion before fetal viability of 24 to 26 weeks or after that period to preserve the patient's health or life.
Bailey opposes abortion, in particular taxpayer-funded abortion, and he objects to any expansion of access to the procedure. However, he has pledged that restrictions on abortion are not on his agenda because with Democrats likely to keep a stranglehold on the Legislature, no such restriction would reach his desk.