SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. J.B. Pritzker sailed to reelection Tuesday but in a triumphant victory speech, sounded more like a candidate for president with the clarion call, “Are you ready to fight?” in warning against extremism and holding out former President Donald Trump for “treasonous insurrection” he said too many Republicans embrace.
The Democrat seized a second term over Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey, who eagerly sought Trump’s endorsement, and in a Chicago speech underscored by frequent chants of “J.B.! J.B.! J.B.!” he hinted at pursuit of an agenda that is far larger than Springfield.
But when he asked his audience about its readiness for battle, he was speaking beyond the cheering crowd in a downtown Chicago hotel. Ever the student of history, Pritzker, Illinois’ third Jewish governor, noted that the state’s first, Henry Horner, took office in 1933 in the darkest days of the Great Depression and with European fascism spawning.
“Horner said, ‘We all realize that we are living in abnormal and unusual times, times requiring unusually clear thinking and sacrificial action … ’” Pritzker recalled. “That was Henry Horner’s way of asking his audience, ‘Are you ready for the fight?’”
Pritzker boosted his national profile this year with a trip to the early primary state of New Hampshire and by raising millions of dollars for Democrats nationwide. When pressed by Bailey, he said if elected, he intended to serve the entire four years and supported President Joe Biden for reelection in 2024.
On Tuesday, Pritzker sounded like a different candidate. Mere paragraphs were reserved for his oft-repeated mention of four consecutive balanced budgets, billions of dollars of debt retired accompanied by credit upgrades, of a comfortable living wage, robust health care, and virtually unfettered access to abortion.
Instead, he warned of a “cancer” that has spread through “one ideological wing” of his rival Republican party, lead by Trump, whom he suggested is on the verge of announcing his 2024 comeback attempt.
“They’ve had ample opportunity to treat the disease and they have refused to do so at every turn. The result has been treasonous insurrectionists tearing down the doors of the U.S. Capitol, the maiming of Capitol Police and an attack on the 83-year-old husband of the speaker of the House with a hammer in his own home,” Pritzker said, referring to last month’s attack on Paul Pelosi.
“There’s no nice or easy way to say this, but until the Republican party is ready to expel the extremists in their midst, we need to do it for them at the ballot box,” the governor said to cheers.
A 57-year-old billionaire equity investor and philanthropist, Pritzker’s victory Tuesday ended a campaign in which he and Bailey had accused each other of being out of touch and too extreme.
Pritzker took office in 2019 after trouncing an increasingly unpopular GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose quest for a far-reaching conservative agenda was stymied by a powerful Democratic-controlled Legislature. The heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune pounded the airwaves with ads labeling Bailey with an ideology beyond Rauner’s, one that is out of step with most Illinois voters on issues such as abortion access and restrictions on guns, and has no concrete proposals to prevent crime, which was the focus of his campaign.
Bailey played to the strong support for Trump that remains in large parts of central and southern Illinois and claimed Pritzker’s drive to be “ the most radical leftist governor in America” is decimating the state by coddling criminals, offering abortion without restriction and spending too much on social programs.
Pritzker campaigned this year on balancing the budget for four years, offering $1.8 billion in taxpayer relief last spring, and paying down a mound of debt, mostly in overdue bills to vendors. But spending has increased, partly because of federal COVID-19 pandemic relief dollars that Bailey said were used to balance the books. Pritzker has stressed that money was used for one-time relief measures.
Bailey, 56, has made crime in Chicago a centerpiece of his campaign and was buffeted by ridicule when he called the nation’s third-largest city a “crime-ridden corrupt hellhole.” Pritzker countered that Bailey had voted against the Democratic Legislature’s investments in police cadets and crime-lab investigative tools and offered no concrete solutions.
From the southern Illinois town of Xenia, Bailey strongly supports gun rights while the governor wants to ban semi-automatic rifles. Bailey has mocked him for not getting that done in four years with supermajority Democratic control of the House and Senate.
Despite the likelihood that control continues, Bailey has vowed to repeal a Democratic criminal justice overhaul adopted last year that includes ending cash bail for violent offenders. Bailey claims that when it takes effect in January 2023, it will be a “revolving door” for criminals to return to the street while Pritzker said the current system allows wealthy suspects to buy their way to pretrial freedom.
Bailey used the very fact of anticipated supermajority legislative control by Democrats to say it was unlikely he’d have the chance to restrict abortion, which he opposes except in cases of rape or incest or the mother’s life. It had become a campaign lightning rod after he Supreme Court overturned the 50-year-old Roe v. Wade opinion legalizing the procedure. Illinois has no restrictions on abortion before fetal viability of 24 to 26 weeks or after that period to preserve the patient’s health or life.
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