What are Dillard's chances if he runs for governor again?

  • RTA Chairman Kirk Dillard may seek the Republican nomination to run for governor against Democrat J.B. Pritzker.

    RTA Chairman Kirk Dillard may seek the Republican nomination to run for governor against Democrat J.B. Pritzker. Daily Herald File Photo

Updated 8/5/2021 6:37 PM

Is Kirk Dillard the Republican whisperer who can appeal to both moderates and conservatives and beat formidable and well-funded Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker?

The former state senator and Regional Transportation Authority chairman would not be the only challenger to Pritzker in 2022, but Dillard is unique in having fought a gubernatorial campaign twice before.


Dillard, a moderate Republican, is being courted by some GOP insiders, but he's not stepping into the race -- yet.

"People whom I respect and whose opinions I value reached out to me," Dillard told the Daily Herald Wednesday.

"They asked me to consider running to give Illinois political balance and to make it safe and work again. These leaders think I am a Republican who can win a general election and govern effectively. I owe it to them, the people of Illinois and my family to carefully listen."

But, he added, "right now I am laser-focused on getting northeastern Illinois's transportation network through a pandemic." The RTA includes Metra, Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority.

Dillard, an attorney from Hinsdale, ran for governor in 2010 and 2014 in the Republican primaries, coming in second to Sen. Bill Brady and former Gov. Bruce Rauner, respectively.

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Pritzker, whose family owns the Hyatt hotel chain, has a war chest of about $32.8 million that consists primarily of loans he made to his campaign, according to Illinois State Board of Election records.

The first-term governor will point to a list of accomplishments including a setting up a six-year capital plan, enacting criminal justice reform, legalizing marijuana, and steering the state through the COVID-19 crisis thus far.

But that track record will be weaponized by Republicans to criticize the incumbent's performance in a consequential midterm election where Democratic President Joe Biden's handling of the pandemic also will be on the ballot.

Republicans in the gubernatorial race also include former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Monroe County, state Sen. Darren Bailey of Louisville and businessman Gary Rabine of McHenry County.


It's early in the game, but "I think our state needs governance," said former Republican state Rep. Grant Wehrli of Naperville. "Personally, I think, right now, we have somebody who'd rather be king than governor."

But "I don't think there's a candidate out there right now I'm ready to rally behind," although "I'm intrigued by Kirk Dillard's name."

Downstate congressmen Rodney Davis and Darin LaHood are also being talked about in Republican circles, he said.

Far-right and far-left voters in Illinois "want their ideologues, and that will never change," Wehrli noted. "But independents and moderates want someone who will bring a sense of normalcy back to governing, some sense of normalcy back to our lives.

"I'm not sure that candidate is out there yet."

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