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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Even before the Illinois primary votes are in, a pitched battle is brewing over cultural issues between the GOP and Democrats

Gov. J.B. Pritzker waves to people in the crowd during the Pride Parade on Chicago's North Side on June 26, 2022. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)  (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
By Rick Pearson, Dan Petrella and Jeremy Gorner The Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — In the final weekend before Tuesday’s primary election, the disparity in campaigning between Republicans running for governor and the Democratic incumbent they hope to replace foreshadows a fall general election campaign in which culture wars will likely take center stage.

On Sunday, first-term Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other Democrats seeking statewide office joined in the celebration of Chicago’s Pride Parade and took the opportunity to warn that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning national abortion protections could extend to eliminating other rights.

Before stepping onto the parade route, Pritzker said he and supporters would be “marching for pride, marching for LGBTQ rights, for choice and for making sure that we’re fighting back against the Supreme Court that’s trying to take away people’s rights.”

“There’ll be some celebrating and, of course, some protests as a result of what happened on Friday,” the Democratic governor said of the parade.

Nearly 250 miles to the southwest in Quincy, state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia celebrated Saturday’s endorsement for the GOP nomination for governor from former President Donald Trump by saying he planned to visit a nearby church.

“We are astray and it’s because we’ve allowed career politicians to deceive us, to misguide us and to take us to places where we should never have gone,” Bailey told his followers on Facebook. “The people are just getting sick and tired of being burdened by a failed government, especially a woke liberal government, that seeks to just indoctrinate our children, that seeks to let criminals go scot-free, that seeks to just push people who dream and want to work hard in this state, push them out.”

Pritzker, his renomination as the Democratic nominee for governor virtually assured against nominal opposition, has made the court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade a top issue heading into the fall. It is also representative, he’s indicated, of the need for protections for LGBTQ people and other groups after Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion that the court should revisit same-sex marriage and contraception rights.

A leading national abortion rights advocate, Pritzker has moved to enshrine a woman’s right to an abortion in state law and end restrictions such as parental notification while vowing to do even more in a planned special legislative session next month as other GOP-controlled states look to quickly restrict access to abortion.

Bailey is the most conservative among six contenders for the Republican nomination for governor. He’s been endorsed by leading state organizations that oppose abortion rights. Bailey is opposed to abortion except to save the life of the mother and has said he would seek to roll back taxpayer-funded abortion for poor women and reinstate parental notification.

As a member of the legislature, Bailey also has opposed LGBTQ rights, most recently contending that teaching children about the role the community has played in history in state-approved textbooks is “sexualizing kids” and forces “schools to indoctrinate our kids with their far-left ideology.”

Bailey also has spoken in biblical terms of the decline of the family unit and the role of women and has called transgender rights “the moral rot that is destroying society.”

“God, in His creation, He intended, you know, the family unit to be headed by the dad. The dad is supposed to be out, you know, teaching his children hard work, ethics, honesty and integrity,” Bailey said in an April 4 interview on “Outside the Beltway.”

Running what began as an evangelical populist campaign based in the state’s rural, heavily Republican Downstate, Bailey has since seen his support rise across Illinois in line with an increasing rightward movement of GOP voters accelerated by their loyalty to Trump.

He has called Pritzker a “tyrant” for the governor’s pandemic mitigation orders and has seized on a long-standing political tactic of regionalism that relies on the stereotype that those outside Chicago are shortchanged compared with Chicago residents over how tax dollars are shared. That’s despite studies that have shown counties outside the Chicago region receive twice as much a return on state money as their residents pay in, largely at the expense of suburban taxpayers.

Bailey has even sponsored legislation calling for Chicago to be split from the rest of Illinois, arguing the state’s largest city and economic engine forces its liberal urban values on conservatives in rural Illinois. During recent debates, he repeatedly referred to Chicago as a “hellhole.”

Bailey’s road to potential victory was paved in part by tens of millions of dollars in advertising and mailers spent by Pritzker and the Democratic Governors Association because Bailey is viewed as an easier challenger for Pritzker to defeat in November. The ads have attacked rival Republican candidate Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin and portrayed Bailey as “too conservative for Illinois” — a backhanded way of encouraging Bailey support among the GOP base.

The Illinois Democratic Party has made a similar effort in recent days with mailers labeling Republican attorney general candidate Thomas DeVore of Sorrento as “too conservative.”

DeVore is in a contest with Deerfield attorney Steve Kim, part of a statewide candidate slate with Irvin. Orland Park attorney David Shestokas is also in the GOP contest. Democratic Attorney General Kwame Raoul faces no primary opposition.

DeVore is a Downstate ally of Bailey and served as Bailey’s lawyer in lawsuits — eventually unsuccessful — that sought to challenge Pritzker’s COVID-19 mitigation orders.

Bailey’s campaign also has benefited from ultraconservative billionaire megadonor Richard Uihlein, who has contributed $17 million to the candidate as well as an independent expenditure group allied with Bailey. But Bailey’s camp viewed Trump’s long-sought endorsement as a key to victory on Tuesday, a development that sent Bailey’s GOP rivals arguing the state senator will not be electable in the fall.

One candidate, venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan of Petersburg, said that “unfortunately, the endorsement that has mattered most in this primary has been J.B. Pritzker’s, with tens of millions of dollars spent to fool Republican voters and hand-pick the weakest opponent in November, Darren Bailey.”

Irvin, whose bid was backed by $50 million from hedge-fund CEO Ken Griffin, who announced last week he was moving his Citadel investment firm out of Chicago and to Miami, also contended Bailey could not defeat Pritzker in the fall.

“The only endorsement that’s important in this race is the endorsement of the residents of the state of Illinois,” Irvin said before stepping off at the Bourbonnais Friendship Festival parade.

“You’re going to need Republican votes. You’re going to need independent votes. And you’re going to need Democratic crossover votes out of Chicago” to win in the fall, he said. “The purpose of the Republican primary is to pick the Republican opponent that is capable enough, prepared enough, to actually beat” Pritzker.

Rival candidate Gary Rabine of Bull Valley said he was “disappointed” in Trump’s endorsement of Bailey. Rabine had hosted a fundraiser for Trump and cultivated ties with loyalists of the former president.

“Our state is in a crisis and nothing will change unless J.B. Pritzker loses in November,” Rabine said.

For his part, Pritzker said Bailey’s acceptance of Trump’s endorsement “seems to me an acknowledgment on his part that he’s willing to go down a terrible rabbit hole that will sink the Republican Party. All I can say is that Darren Bailey’s too conservative for Illinois and he proved it.”

The other two Republicans running for the nomination are former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo and Hazel Crest attorney Max Solomon.

As candidates for federal, state and local nominations prepared their final day get-out-the-vote strategies, a late endorsement from President Joe Biden was announced in the new West Side and west suburban 7th Congressional District, with Biden backing veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, who is facing a challenge from progressive activist Kina Collins.

“Representative Danny Davis has always been an effective leader and lawmaker who is deeply rooted in his community. He serves with passion and integrity, and that’s why I’m endorsing him in his upcoming primary,” Biden said in a statement released by Davis’ campaign. “So much is at stake, and we have more work to do to bring costs down for families and keep our communities safe. I know Rep. Davis will continue to be an essential partner in getting it done.”

Davis said he was “grateful for President Biden’s support in this race and for his partnership in Washington, as we work to solve the pressing problems that families in Chicagoland face each and every day.”

But Collins said the endorsement was an example of Davis, who has served in Congress since 1997, “using his resources to call in favors to save himself” rather than assisting the district’s residents.

“He knows that voters are ready for a new generation of people-powered leadership, unbought by corporate PAC dollars, that will put our community above everything else. Time’s up on self-serving absentee leadership,” Collins said in a statement.