Multibillionaire Democratic Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker and his allies are spending tens of millions of dollars to stop a black Republican veteran from challenging the incumbent in November.
In the last five weeks alone, Pritzker and the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) have dropped more than $12 million on TV ads meant to sink Republican Richard Irvin, an Army veteran who became Aurora, Ill.'s first black mayor in 2017—and to elevate his Republican primary opponent, state lawmaker Darren Bailey. Those ads attack Irvin's record as a defense attorney and call Bailey "too conservative for Illinois," an attack intended to boost him in the June GOP primary. With digital ads factored in, Democrats are on pace to spend a total of $32 million on similar spots before the primary's conclusion, ad spending data obtained by the Washington Free Beacon show.
The massive spending shows just how much Pritzker fears a general election fight against Irvin, who was raised by a single mother in Aurora's housing projects. The DGA started its anti-Irvin assault in March, just days after a Tulchin Research poll showed Pritzker trailing the Republican mayor in the state's all-important suburbs. Months later, during a May candidate forum, fellow Republican gubernatorial hopeful Paul Schimpf said it's "no secret that the Democrats recognize that Darren [Bailey] is the easiest opponent for J.B. Pritzker in the general election."
Many Illinois Republicans have criticized Pritzker's attempts to meddle in the Republican primary. In March, for example, state House Republican leader Jim Durkin called on the governor to condemn the DGA's "obvious effort to hijack the Republican primary election." Bailey, however, has welcomed the boost from his political enemies—during an April interview, the Republican said he "dig[s]" the DGA's ads, which he called "beautiful."
Neither Pritzker nor the DGA returned requests for comment. Pritzker, a multibillionaire whose family owns the Hyatt hotel chain, has contributed more than $3 million to the DGA since 2017 and sent the group $250,000 in December, campaign finance records show.
This is far from the first time Democrats have spent big to elevate their preferred candidate in a Republican gubernatorial primary, but it may be the most significant. Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro spent nearly $1 million on ads that called Republican state lawmaker Doug Mastriano "one of Donald Trump's biggest supporters." The ads elevated Mastriano on the right, and after the Republican defeated his primary opponents, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party called him "the most dangerous gubernatorial candidate in Pennsylvania history."
Still, that effort dwarfs in comparison to Democrats' campaign to sink Irvin in Illinois. Prtizker has spent roughly $3.3 million on anti-Irvin ads since Memorial Day, while the DGA has spent $9.1 million since the first week of May, according to ad buy records reviewed by the Free Beacon.
As a blue-state incumbent with an $88 million war chest, Pritzker should be a shoo-in for reelection come November. But the Democrat will have to navigate a treacherous political environment for his party, which has seen President Joe Biden rapidly lose his political standing in Illinois. Just 41 percent of the state's voters approve of Biden, while 49 percent disapprove, according to Civiqs. Biden carried Illinois by a whopping 17 points in 2020.
Irvin must emerge from a crowded primary race to face Pritzker in November. In addition to Bailey and Schimpf, the Republican mayor's prominent primary opponents include businessman Gary Rabine and venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan, who once founded a self-described "social justice" magazine. Illinois Republican voters will choose the party's gubernatorial nominee on June 28.