CHICAGO (AP) – As the fight to become the Democratic nominee for Illinois governor enters its final weeks, the looming question remains the same as it’s been for months: Can anyone stop J.B. Pritzker?
The billionaire Chicago businessman has spent millions on his campaign, becoming a seemingly constant presence on television and collecting endorsements from many in the party establishment. Polls consistently have shown him as the front runner.
His closest rivals, state Sen. Daniel Biss and businessman Chris Kennedy, each argue they’re the candidate that would bring true change to the Democratic party and the state. They’re working to derail Pritzker come March 20, with Kennedy reporting a recent bump in fundraising and Biss stressing his status as “the middle-class candidate.”
Three others are seeking the nomination: educator and farmer Bob Daiber, anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman and physician Robert Marshall. In the Republican primary, Gov. Bruce Rauner faces a late challenge from conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives, whose campaign fund is a tiny fraction of what the wealthy former private equity investor has at his disposal.
Rauner already has spent money to damage Pritzker, airing audio from FBI wiretaps in which the Democrat is heard talking to now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich about a political appointment. In a particularly damaging one, Pritzker describes Secretary of State Jesse White as the “least offensive” African-American lawmaker Blagojevich might consider appointing.
His Democratic rivals argue the previously unreleased audio, obtained by the Chicago Tribune, would haunt a Pritzker bid and make him unelectable in November.
Pritzker has apologized for the remarks. The heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune says Rauner is attacking him precisely because he’s the Democrat best positioned financially and politically to deny the governor a second term.
“He’s not spending money against any of my opponents,” Pritkzer said during a recent WBEZ/Politico debate. “Why is that? Because he knows that he can’t win in a general election against me.”
It’s still unknown whether any additional wiretap audio of Pritzker and Blagojevich exists. The Tribune hasn’t disclosed how it obtained the audio or whether there’s more, and Pritzker has said he doesn’t know.
Pritzker, who was one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest supporters for president, says he got into the race because he saw what was happening under President Donald Trump, whom he calls a racist and misogynist. He describes Rauner as Trump’s “local silent partner.”
As the race has appeared to tighten in recent weeks, Pritzker also has directed attacks at his fellow Democrats.
He blasted Kennedy for praising Rauner and for supporting multiple tuition increases when he was chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. And he said Biss’ record, which includes sponsoring legislation to cut public-worker pensions, hasn’t been good for the middle class.
Kennedy, the son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy and nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, calls Rauner “one of the worst governors in Illinois history.”
But he’s stood by his comment that the Republican should be commended for criticizing a flawed property tax system and “pay to play” culture in Cook County and Illinois. He described Pritzker’s remarks on the wiretap audio featured in Rauner’s ads as the “language of racists.”
Kennedy says his campaign represents a break from the status quo.
“If you want radical change in Illinois .... come and work on my campaign,” he told an audience at the University of Chicago on Thursday.
Biss says he made a mistake when he supported the pension legislation, which the Supreme Court threw out, and says that process and his other experiences in the Legislature mean he’ll be a better governor. He says the question facing voters is whether it’s good enough to just defeat Rauner.
“We can look at a situation with Bruce Rauner in the governor’s mansion and Donald Trump in the White House and say inexperienced wealthy businessmen who buy their way into office must be the solution, or we can look at that and say it’s time for a middle-class progressive,” Biss said.
Six Democrats are running to become the party's nominee for Illinois governor. Here's a look at the candidates on the March 20 primary ballot:
Occupation: State senator
Education: Bachelor's degree, Harvard University; doctorate in mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Public offices held: Illinois House of Representatives, 2011-2012. Elected to Illinois Senate in 2012.
Professional experience: Former math teacher at North Lawndale High School and the University of Chicago. Member, Evanston Environment Board; former president, Democratic Party of Evanston; board member, Indo-American Democratic Organization; social action committee member, Temple Beth Israel.
Running mate: State Rep. Litesa Wallace, Rockford
Occupation: Regional schools superintendent, township supervisor, farmer.
Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees in education, Eastern Illinois University. Doctorate in education, Southern Illinois University_Edwardsville.
Public offices held: Marine Township supervisor, 2001 to present; former Madison County Board member; former member of Marine village board; Appointed regional superintendent of schools in 2007 and elected in 2008, 2010 and 2014.
Professional experience: Career and technical teacher at Triad High School in Troy, 1979-2007; Member, Illinois Education Association, including four years as local president. With wife Karen, owns 250 acres of farmland in four locations in Madison and Macoupin counties. Personally farms 120 acres, corn and beans.
Running mate: Jonathan Todd, Chicago
Hometown: Calumet City
Occupation: President of Violence Interrupters, a not-for-profit anti-violence organization. Adjunct professor of criminal justice and restorative justice.
Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees in inner city studies, Northeastern Illinois University.
Public offices held: None.
Professional experience: Former director of CeaseFire Illinois; violence prevention expert and adjunct professor; community leader.
Running mate: Patricia Avery, Champaign
Occupation: Founder of Top Box Foods, a non-profit that provides high-quality, affordable foods to needy Northern Illinois communities. Chairman of Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises, Inc.
Education: Bachelor's degree, Boston College; master of business administration, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Business
Public offices held: None.
Professional experience: Former chairman, University of Illinois Board of Trustees; former president of Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc.; former chairman, Greater Chicago Food Depository; current board member, Ariel Mutual Funds; former Lund-Gill Chair at Dominican University. Taught honors course on effects of government and community policies on social justice organizations.
Running mate: Ra Joy, Chicago
Hometown: Burr Ridge
Education: Phillips Exeter Academy, Oberlin College, Harvard Medical School.
Public offices held: Former trustee, Burr Ridge Village Board.
Professional experience: Physician since 1969.
Running mate: Dennis Cole, Westchester
Education: Bachelor's degree, Duke University; Law degree, Northwestern University School of Law
Public offices held: None.
Professional experience: Entrepreneur who helped found Chicago tech incubator 1871. Early childhood education advocate, organizing President Barack Obama's 2014 Summit on Early Childhood Education. Former chairman, Illinois Human Rights Commission. Helped Holocaust survivors build the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.
Running mate: State Rep. Juliana Stratton, Chicago