Irvin and Bailey vie for Republican gubernatorial nomination

Gubernatorial candidate Richard Irvin has spent tens of millions of billionaire Ken Griffin's dollars introducing himself to Republican primary voters. Yet, a recent poll taken for WGN TV by Emerson College Polling shows he's leading Sen. Darren Bailey by just 4 percentage points, 24-20, with 19% split between the other four candidates and undecideds "leading" with 37%.

Irvin's TV ads have tended to focus on crime (or corruption), but just 15% of Republican primary voters rate crime as their top Illinois issue, while 54% said the economy was at the top of their list.

Irvin has big leads over Bailey when asked which candidate "is best suited to tackle crime in Illinois." He's ahead of Bailey overall 30-20 with GOP primary voters on the issue, including 32-20 with whites (the vast majority of the GOP base), 38-18 in the suburbs, 33-13 in Chicago, 34-23 with men and 27-16 with women. Bailey is just barely behind outside of the Chicago metro region on the topic at 24-23. If crime were really and truly topmost to Republican primary voters, Irvin would be walking away with this.

Bailey is keeping it close overall partly because he's just slightly ahead of Irvin on the all-important economy issue, 22-21. And that's because Bailey leads Irvin by 8 points (25-15) outside metro Chicago on the topic and leads slightly among women (19-17).

According to the poll, 56% of whites, 57 percent of men, 51% of women, 54% of suburban voters and 61% of Downstaters put the economy at the top of their list, with just 32% of Chicago Republicans prioritizing it and putting the topic in second place.

On crime, the poll found that just 14% of whites, 15% of men, 14% of women, 13% of suburbanites and 10% of Downstaters had the issue at the top of their list, while 40% of Chicago Republicans said it was No. 1. 

The Irvin people have said in the past that he is using the crime issue to signal to voters that, despite his outward appearance, he's actually a Republican, without having to trumpet his specific party affiliation in most (not all) of his advertising. It's worked as far as that purpose goes, but he's not yet speaking loudly to the top voter concern. Even so, there's plenty of time and Griffin money to move on to other items. We'll see.

The Irvin campaign claims that the Democratic Governors Association and Dan Proft's People Who Play by the Rules PAC have spent about $8 million attacking their guy, with another $2 million or so on the way in new DGA ads. The Irvin campaign just reloaded with $25 million from the state's wealthiest resident Griffin after apparently burning through most of Griffin's initial $20 million "investment." The fact that he's only attracting less than a quarter of the primary vote after all that ought to be hugely concerning. But, as noted above, there's still time to crack the ceiling.

Those anti-Irvin ads are quite obviously having an impact on Irvin's numbers – holding the nominal frontrunner down with the hope that Bailey's campaign can somehow catch fire. But Bailey is such a hapless and cashless candidate that he's going to need something huge.

Sen. Bailey has been trying like heck to win former President Donald Trump's endorsement. Bailey recently attended a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser for US Rep. Mary Miller and has been posting the photo he took with Trump on his social media feeds. He touts the fact that he was a Trump delegate in 2020 and has shown endless irritation at being labeled by Irvin as a Democrat never-Trumper Democrat. But a WTTW news story late last week about how Irvin once said he hated Trump and called the former president an "idiot" and "bigoted racist" might help Bailey secure that nod.

The poll showed that 57% of primary voters would be more likely to vote for a candidate who was endorsed by Trump. Of that large majority of folks who said they'd be more likely to vote for the candidate, 34% were undecided voters.

In other words, Bailey has to secure that Trump nod. It may very well be his only path to prevent those undecideds from eventually breaking toward Irvin. It'll hurt Bailey in the general election, of course, but that's for another time.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.