SPRINGFIELD – Gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker had the most damning take on President Donald Trump, calling him “a racist and a bigot and a xenophobe and a liar.”
And Ald. Ameya Pawar offered perhaps the most direct argument linking Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, to Gov. Bruce Rauner, accusing the Republican governor of a “divide-and-rule” strategy.
“He is turning our neighbors into the ‘other,'” Pawar said. “Our history is based on some of this and what happened in Charlottesville is at the end of the line of a series of actions and policies that got us there.”
It was Democrat Day at the Illinois State Fair on Thursday, but the party’s gubernatorial hopefuls seemed much more interested in talking about Republicans — specifically, the president and the governor.
The Democrats battling it out in the governor’s race sought to differentiate themselves in a crowded field, but they were united in condemning Trump and Rauner at the annual Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association breakfast.
A number of the candidates blasted the governor’s response to the Charlottesville attack — even after Rauner on Wednesday called Trump out by name for his turnabout.
Pritzker, a billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist, took note of a Fox News interview the governor did last week in which he was asked whether Trump is a good president.
“He was afraid to utter a negative word,” Pritzker told thousands at the breakfast. “Well I’m not afraid. Donald Trump is a racist and a bigot and a xenophobe and a liar. And Bruce Rauner’s silence is deafening.”
Pritzker, the perceived frontrunner in the primary Democratic race, urged Democrats to “stand together against Bruce Rauner.”
‘This general election against Bruce Rauner isn’t going to be an easy one. You know what? We’ve got a fight ahead,” Pritzker said.
Chris Kennedy, a businessman and son of Robert F. Kennedy, said the country is in civil unrest with “no moral leadership” coming from the president. Trump, Kennedy said, lacks “heart” and “will.”
He quoted passages of Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” while calling for Democrats to rise up with compassion.
Kennedy also took shots at what he called Rauner’s “hesitation” to take a stand earlier on Charlottesville, specifically the governor’s delay Monday in labeling the attack “terrorism.”
“I think the governor took his time in being critical of the president and the president took his time in being critical of the folks who tried to intimidate the people in Charlottesville to change a decision … that’s intimidation. That’s terrorism,” Kennedy said. “They’re trying to force somebody to make a decision, to make a political decision and we don’t allow that in this country. And for the governor to be hesitant on that point, for the president to be hesitant on that point is to put democracy at risk.”
Pawar said the Illinois is linked to the Virginia tragedy by the governor’s amendatory veto of a Democrat school funding measure. The 47th Ward alderman said that veto “pits poor white communities against poor black and brown communities.”
State Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, accused both Trump and Rauner of flip-flopping on their Charlottesville reactions. Biss earlier Wednesday announced he’d been endorsed by Rep. Robin Kelly.
Besides the calls for resistance against the governor and the president, there were attempts to stand out in the very crowded field of candidates.
Another Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, Bob Daiber, a schools superintendent from Madison County, said he’d work to bring “back home” the many groups that may not have voted Democratic last time — farmers, teachers, “the labor guys” and any others.
State Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, said he’s running in the primary to give the state “back to the people.”
“Illinois needs a leader who’s going to lead from the front, not follow from behind,” Drury said. “Who is going to see an issue and take it on before it’s popular. Who is going to make sure that the public can trust and have faith in what their leader is saying.”
The Rauner-led Illinois Republican Party responded to the chorus of criticism by trying to shift blame for the state’s problems onto Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. They called Democrat Day “Madigan Day.”
“Democrat candidates for governor have nothing to celebrate about Madigan’s record-setting, disastrous reign of terror over Illinois, but that doesn’t stop them from traveling to Springfield to showcase their loyalty and kiss his ring,” spokesman Aaron DeGroot said in a statement.
The other news of the day was Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White’s announcement that he will run for re-election, seeking a sixth term.
Bucking tradition, Illinois Democrats this year decided to cancel the Illinois State Fair rally that usually followed the annual breakfast. Democrat Day came a day after Rauner celebrated Governor’s Day, both at a breakfast and on the fairgrounds.
Rauner lashed out at Madigan in his remarks on Wednesday, but earned his biggest headlines when he went after Trump’s response to the violence while taking questions from reporters. The governor accused Trump of making remarks that “damage America,” saying he “vehemently disagrees with the president’s comments about the tragedy in Charlottesville.”
“I vehemently disagree with the president’s comments,” Rauner said on Wednesday. “We must stand together against hatred and racism and bigotry and violence and we must condemn those actions in Charlottesville in the strongest terms.”