CHICAGO — Gov. JB Pritzker will be reelected in Illinois, easily beating Trump-backed challenger Darren Bailey, according to early projections.
The Associated Press projected a win for Pritzker less than a half hour after the polls closed Tuesday, and he gave a victory speech about 8 p.m. The race was among the most-watched in Illinois, as it pitted Pritzker — seen as a more progressive figure in American politics — against Bailey, a downstate conservative backed by the Trumps.
“I’m grateful tonight that Illinois continues a long tradition of peaceful and fair elections,” Pritzker said at his victory speech. “And I’m so thrilled to spend four more years as your governor.”
Pritzker, the billionaire scion of a famously wealthy and politically connected family, has gained more attention on the national stage in recent years for his actions during the pandemic, which saw him give frequent televised briefings to Illinoisans for months. He’s also made headlines for pledging to protect abortion access in Illinois, helping legalize weed in the state and repeatedly clashing with former President Donald Trump.
Pritzker said during his victory speech he’ll continue to fight for those values — and he called on his supporters to be “happy warriors” with him.
“We will never surrender in the battle against hate,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker reaffirmed his commitment to protecting abortion access, young people are taught critical thinking and people can access health care. He also called for a world where children are not “shielded from the truth about all of our American history” and books are not banned.
The governor took pointed aim at Republicans, saying they’ve allowed bigotry to fester and spread in their party.
“They’ve had ample opportunity to treat the disease, and they’ve refused to do so at every turn,” Pritzker said. “The result has been treasonous insurrectionists tearing down the doors of the U.S. Capitol. The maiming of Capitol police. And the attack on the 82-year-old husband of the speaker of the House with a hammer in his own home.
“… Until the Republican party is ready to expel the extremists in their midsts, we need to do it for them at the ballot box.”
Pritzker said Trump — who is widely expected to soon announce another presidential campaign — has engaged in tyranny and is destroying the United States.
“I choose to fight,” Pritzker said. “I choose to fight to protect Illinois families. I choose to fight to protect our workers. I choose to fight for women’s rights, for civil rights, for voting rights.
“I choose to fight for the better world imagined by those who never let their hopes be reined in by their experiences.”
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Pritzker’s challenger, Bailey, is a millionaire farmer who gained renewed attention in recent years for putting up legal challenges to Pritzker’s stay at home order and refusing to comply with a mask requirement in the state Legislature. The two clashed over COVID-19 safety steps, generating headlines.
Bailey was endorsed by Trump and managed to beat out five others for the Republican nomination this spring — including Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, who had received $50 million in funding from Pritzker rival Ken Griffin. Griffin, once Illinois’ richest man, moved his family to Florida after the primary loss.
Bailey struggled to find a footing in Chicago, though, as he repeatedly criticized Illinois’ largest city. He’d also previously attempted to have Chicago become its own state apart from the rest of Illinois.
Early voting results showed Pritzker and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton with more than 57 percent of the vote statewide, while Bailey and his running partner, Stephanie Trussell, had about 40 percent.
The race was adversarial: Pritzker and Bailey’s campaigns poured millions into the gubernatorial race this fall and frequently traded insults. There was also controversy when fake newspapers from Bailey supporter Dan Proft were mailed to Chicagoans with stories bashing Pritzker and praising Bailey.
The two lawmakers have been at odds for years, with their hostilities hitting a peak during the pandemic.
Pritzker implemented the stay at home order in April 2020 in an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19, but Bailey criticized the measures and filed a lawsuit. The two trades barbs in the media, with Pritzker accusing Bailey of peddling conspiracy theories while Bailey said Pritzker’s policies hurt Illinois’ economy and residents. Bailey also refused to wear a mask while serving in the state Legislature at times.
Bailey, who lives in Xenia, had previously backed an attempted state resolution that would have called for Chicago to become its own state apart from the rest of Illinois. He backtracked on that after announcing his gubernatorial bid, though he called Chicago a “hellhole” during his campaign.
Despite repeatedly criticizing Chicago — including calling the city a “hellhole” again as recently as August — Bailey rented an apartment at the Hancock Center this fall and held news conferences in the city.
Bailey was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, and Donald Trump Jr. encouraged downstate voters to support him at an October event — even while Bailey tried to distance himself from the family, according to the Tribune.
Bailey has said he is anti-abortion and voted against abortion protections in Illinois. His campaign called for term limits on politicians, and he has voiced strong opposition to gun control laws and raising taxes.
Bailey, speaking during his primary victory speech this spring, also vowed to remove critical race theory from Illinois schools.
Pritzker’s policies have been markedly different.
The governor has defended the stay at home order that was used at the start of the pandemic, as well as policies like the gradual reopening of Illinois and mask mandates, saying those measures saved lives.
When Roe v. Wade was overturned, Pritzker vowed to protect and expand abortion access and reproductive health care in Illinois.
The governor has also focused on raising the state’s minimum wage; reforming its criminal justice system, particularly for youth; and improving the state’s credit and economic situation, among other issues.
Pritzker, a billionaire businessman and philanthropist, is based in Chicago. He became governor of Illinois in 2019 after defeating former Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican.
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