How the suburbs fit into J.B. Pritzker's decisive win -- and what's next (president?)
With the state House and Senate firmly under Democratic control and a second term as governor locked up, is Gov. J.B. Pritzker aiming higher?
"There's no plan to do anything other than be governor for the next four years," the Chicago Democrat said Wednesday even as talk grows about a presidential run. "I commit to you that I'm planning to be the governor for the next four years."
Pritzker won about 54% of the state and doused rival conservative Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia, who garnered 43.3% in Tuesday's election, according to unofficial results. A major factor in the victory was more than 1 million votes from the suburbs that add up to nearly 49% of Pritzker's total, with ballots still being counted.
In comparison, votes for Pritzker from suburban Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties in 2018 came to about 44%.
Millions were spent during the campaign by Hyatt Hotel heir Pritzker and Republican billionaires such as hedge fund owner Ken Griffin.
At a Chicago briefing, Pritzker noted that "whether you vote for me or not -- I serve all the people of Illinois."
But asked about the money-slinging, he said, "I'm not going to just sit and get pummeled by them."
The Republican Party is "a party that is run by Donald Trump. My opponent was a Donald Trump disciple. Those are values Illinois does not appreciate and does not agree with," Pritzker said.
Griffin had bankrolled moderate Republican and Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin in the June 28 primary, but conservative Bailey won the heart of base voters amid Pritzker-connected ads calling Irvin "too extreme."
"Darren Bailey was J.B. Pritzker's hand-picked opponent with a $35 million price tag he paid during the Republican primary that he meddled in," said Palatine Republican Aaron Del Mar, who ran for lieutenant governor in the primary with Gary Rabine. "This race was over in June."
A farmer from Xenia, Bailey focused on crime, calling Chicago a "hellhole," and held firm to his stance against abortion in all cases except to save the life of the mother.
That backfired in blue state Illinois and the metro region, experts said.
"I think the choice for governor was pretty simple for suburbanites," Naperville Mayor and Irvin supporter Steve Chirico said. "The governor had a solid campaign strategy and was wise to invest in the weakest opponent -- furthest right and most vulnerable -- in the Republican primary. That early investment certainly paid off as it made his general election a pretty easy effort for himself."
Illinoisans have elected Republican governors in recent years, but they've been moderates such as Bruce Rauner. Pritzker defeated Rauner by a larger margin than he did Bailey, 54.5% to 38.8%, but turnout was higher four years ago.
Next time, "Illinois Republicans needed to run a likable suburbanite for governor," said former GOP gubernatorial contender and state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale.
Although some Republicans thought Pritkzer's handling of COVID-19, which included mask mandates opposed by Bailey, would be a weakness, a number of voters praised the governor's pandemic policies during an informal sampling Tuesday in Lombard.
"Through everything we've been through the last few years, he's done a great job," Nancy Sachtjen said outside the Helen Plum Library polling station.
Others liked Pritzker's support of LGBTQ rights and expansion of abortion services after the U.S. Supreme Court's overthrow of Roe v. Wade.
"I really feel if Bailey gets in, it's going to be the death of people," resident Mary Ohanian said on the election. But a vote for Pritzker was "like saving the lives of women and the control of women."
Still, Bailey backer Rick Willars "didn't like anything that Pritzker did since he was in office. For me, it was just a choice of having something different."
So did Pritzker's momentum benefit Democrats in local races?
"The governor's race did have coattails in Kane," Kane County Democratic Party Chairman Mark Guethle said. "We netted two county board seats, possibly three."
Meanwhile, McHenry County continued as an outlier, with a majority backing Rauner in 2018 and Bailey in 2022.
"While this is thought of as a predominantly Republican County, we gave them a run," McHenry County Democratic Chair Kristina Zahorik said. "Not all the votes are counted, but it looks like five women will be seated on the county board and we increased our margins on the statewide races."
As for the governor's White House aspirations, "I think Pritzker's margin was enough that he will explore a run for president seriously," former Democratic state Sen. Bill Morris of Grayslake said. "If President Biden does not run (in 2024), and I think he will not, then J.B. will be in the mix."