Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker declared victory in his reelection bid over Republican downstate state senator Darren Bailey — in an apparent victory that also clears a path to any future political aspirations.
The Associated Press called the race at 7 p.m., based on exit polling. With 20% of precincts reporting, Pritzker led Bailey 60.6% to 36.8%. Pritzker took the stage to deliver a victory speech at 8:13 p.m., citing networks calling the race.
Bailey had not yet conceded as of 8:15 p.m.
Pritzker did his best — in words and in millions of dollars worth of ads — to paint Bailey as an extremist who was too dangerous to serve as the state’s governor. The Democrat zeroed in on Bailey’s staunch opposition to abortion and his support of former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Bailey in the primary.
But Bailey was hoping to ride a wave of discontent in the state, especially for those unhappy with President Joe Biden and the economy.
A crowd of more than 120 people gathered inside the Great Lakes Ballroom at the Marriott Marquis for Pritzker’s election night party.
Loud cheers went out when AP called the election for Pritzker, with supporters waving flags and signs and chanting, “JB! JB!”
It wasn’t quite the blowout Pritzker experienced four years ago when voters sent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner packing by nearly 16 points. In terms of raw votes, Pritzker in 2018 received more than any Illinois gubernatorial candidate since 1976.
Pritzker’s popularity isn’t quite where it was four years ago. This time, polls showed Pritzker’s lead declining in the waning weeks of the campaign — and Bailey did his best to pick up votes in Chicago and the collar counties as Republicans across the country were gaining momentum.
Establishment Republicans in the state are still miffed that Pritzker and the Democratic Governors’ Association spent millions in ads boosting Bailey in the Republican primary — a plan that helped Pritzker choose his primary opponent in a crowded field.
After decisive legislative wins during his first year, Pritzker, like many of the country’s governors, was forced to switch gears and lead the state’s pandemic response — trying to save lives while also creating enemies for his mandates and stay-at-home orders.
It was the pandemic that helped to spur a movement led by Bailey and his supporters. But the seeds were already planted back in 2018, when the staunchly conservative former state representative Jeanne Ives nearly defeated Rauner in the Republican primary.
Although Pritzker’s team has been coy about his future, political speeches in New Hampshire and Florida have sparked speculation he’s considering a presidential run. The governor is also pushing for Chicago to host the Democratic National Convention, in another sign there’s a trial balloon out there to see if Democrats view him as a presidential contender.