Ahead of tomorrow’s Illinois primary, all eyes are on Darren Bailey.
He’s the crew-cut wearing downstate Illinois farmer who once pushed for Chicago to be expelled from the state.
He’s also the Ultra-MAGA candidate benefiting from one of this election cycle’s most ironic trends: Democrat candidates running ads in Republican primaries to elevate their most extreme challengers.
Illinois’ current Governor is JB Pritzker. Pritzker is the multi-billionaire heir to Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels. Between the 2018 and 2022 election cycles, Pritzker invested upwards of $300 million of his personal wealth in his campaigns. That includes a reported $35 million spent in this cycle on TV ads to elevate Bailey over his more moderate opponent, Richard Irwin. And it’s been working. Bailey currently enjoys nearly a 15% lead in the GOP race. According to the New York Times, “No candidate for any office is believed to have ever spent more to meddle in another party’s primary.”
Be careful what you wish for
It’s not just Pritzker who’s spent their own campaign funds to ensure their general election opponent is the Trumpiest nut-job available.
Pennsylvania Gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro ran the same playbook in the run-up to the GOP primary there. Shapiro, who was running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, focused his campaign spending to elevate Doug Mastriano, the Trump-endorsed Ultra-MAGA who has vowed to, if elected, decertify voting machines in PA if future election results are not to his liking.
Shapiro, like Pritzker, saw his best chance of victory in November’s general election to be running against the furthest right candidate possible. And it seems to be working. Recent polling averages show Shapiro with a comfortable 4 point lead.
Of course, Democrats should be careful what they wish for. While it is probably a safe bet that Bailey won’t win in Illinois, elevating the craziest candidates around can have the unintended consequence of them winning swing states. Anyone remember how excited Jon Stewart was when Donald Trump entered the race for President? Or how excited Democrats in general were that ’empty hat’ George W. Bush beat out John McCain to run against Al Gore?
Not Trying to “Win” win. Just trying to purge.
In Illinois, the GOP establishment spent nearly $50 million dollars promoting Irwin, the mayor of small town Aurora. Irwin is a black moderate with strong ties to suburban Chicago, and he is believed to be the GOP’s only best bet at the Governorship. Even in a strong Republican national environment, Illinois statewide politicians can only go so far as Chicago will take them. Pritzker is betting that Chicago will take Bailey nowhere, and he’s probably right.
The strangest thing about the Illinois gubernatorial race, though, is that the GOPers backing Bailey have been so willing to say the quiet part out loud: They’re not actually trying to win.
Not to win the Governorship, anyway. What Bailey really wants is control of the Illinois GOP. And it seems that he’ll get it. Again, according to the Times, “Mr. Bailey’s supporters say the real fight is for the soul of the Republican Party.”
The soul of the Republican party. Sure, they’d love the Governor’s mansion, too. But so long as they purge the party of moderates, they’ll have won.
“This primary,” said David Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, “has got to purge the Republican Party of those who are self-serving snollygosters.”
Dear Illinois Moderates: The Democratic Party would love to have you.