The growing GOP gap

Gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey loved by right-wing but alienates moderates

click to enlarge The growing GOP gap
Gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey speaks with attendees at the Ag Day Breakfast on Aug. 16 at the Illinois State Fair.

To win the Illinois governorship, Republican candidate Darren Bailey needs to capture the votes of moderate and independent voters, particularly in the suburbs, and there is serious doubt whether he can accomplish this, former Gov. Jim Edgar told Illinois Times.

"There really aren't many moderates left in the Republican Party. So, when you talk about 'moderate Republicans,' what we are really talking about are independents who often vote Republican," he said.

Edgar said he has made up his mind on who he will vote for but will not disclose it publicly. State Sen. Bailey's positions on abortion, guns and other social issues are repelling moderate and independent voters, he added.

Edgar said Bailey projects an affable, non-threatening persona when chatting one-on-one. But when he gets behind a podium and delivers prepared remarks, he is often off-putting to moderates and independents.

"OK, he's won the primary by being conservative. But if he's going to win the general election, he's going to need to moderate his message," he said.

Edgar suggested de-emphasizing his rhetoric against abortion and for gunowner rights and hitting hard on economic issues such as taxes and jobs. But he said the key to scoring an upset against his Democratic opponent, JB Pritzker, is to emphasize the escalating crime rate in the Chicago area.

"There are many in the Chicago area who are concerned about crime. Some people want to move because of it. It's not as big an issue downstate, but it may play in Chicago," he said.

Pritzker enters the race with the advantages of incumbency and a nearly unlimited war chest because of his enormous personal wealth. In 2018, he spent $218 million of his own money to get elected. Money magazine has noted that Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, is the wealthiest elected official in the United States.

Edgar and others interviewed for this article said Pritzker has the advantage going into the race, but there is a possible path to victory for Bailey, albeit a narrow one.

Former state treasurer Dan Rutherford said he has seen far too many political upsets during his career to write off Bailey but agreed he needs to moderate his message.

"He is so far right and so blatant about it. I sense that he leads with that a lot. I think leading with economic, fiscal, financial issues is a lot safer route," Rutherford said.

During his time in the General Assembly, Rutherford, a Republican, was relatively fiscally conservative but was supportive of same-sex marriage and other gay-rights legislation. He identifies as pro-life and generally opposed gun control measures.

Recently, Bailey compared legal abortion in the United States to the Holocaust, a statement many people found offensive.

"In regards to religion, Illinois isn't like grandpa's Illinois. Illinois is a very diverse state," Rutherford said. "And gay marriage wasn't a whisper in grandpa's age, and interracial marriage wasn't accepted like you see today. ... And you know, when it comes to guns, given his position, I don't think I would lead on issues like that – especially when you've got a shooting at Six Flags. And you've got the 4th of July destroyed for (Highland Park) families – all in Lake County."

Also, Rutherford noted that Bailey has not always been judicious in choosing the legislation he has sponsored. For example, the Xenia lawmaker sponsored a resolution calling for making Chicago a separate state.

"That is a testament to the depth that a person has thought and prepared to become a major executive. Yeah, he got his press pops when he sponsored that. But that has to be measured against where you see your future. Look at Barack Obama. Barack was cautious with regards to not just his (bill) sponsorships, but his votes. Part of that was in preparation if he decided to pursue higher office. From what I understand of his past, I don't think Bailey has done this."

Rutherford said Bailey runs the risk of Pritzker using his past involvement with such legislation to define him as divisive or radical.

Pat Brady, a former chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, said Bailey is making a mistake in closely aligning himself with Donald Trump.

"Unequivocally embracing Trump, who lost the state twice by more than a million votes, is not the way to get elected," he said.

Brady, who is pro-choice, said Bailey needs to focus on persuading suburbanites, particularly women, to support him.

"What I've said for a long time is that you can get the most conservative candidate – who doesn't scare suburban women. And what's happened in the last eight days has really been a giant step backwards by making abortion and the Holocaust comparison front and center."

Both Edgar and Brady said they anticipate Bailey will carry downstate Illinois but added that won't in itself be enough to win statewide office.

When asked how Bailey's positions will play with suburban, moderate voters, Rutherford said, "Well, let me think here: Abortion? No. Guns? No. Religious positioning? Not really."

He added that he anticipates most Republican state lawmakers will distance themselves from Bailey.

"Some of the southern Illinois players may embrace and participate, but I think you'll find that the majority of (Republican) legislators are going to try to just play their own campaign, keep their heads down and avoid eye contact."

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at

About The Author

Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder is a staff writer at Illinois Times.

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