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Illinois the new Iowa? Pritzker to push for first-in-nation mantle, Lightfoot calls it ‘question to pursue’

Pritzker’s chief-of-staff Anne Caprara said when it comes time for the Democratic National Committee to discuss its primary voting structure, a very real push will be made to make Illinois the lead in the nation in the nominating process. 

A welcome sign on the Illinois side of the Iowa border in 2007. File Photo.
A welcome sign on the Illinois side of the Iowa border in 2007. File Photo.
Provided photo.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker plans to launch a bid for the state to overtake Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential nominating status.

And with the demand for diversity in the process growing stronger even before the Iowa caucus debacle, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday told the Chicago Sun-Times it’s time for the Democratic party to “give serious consideration to starting with a state that’s diverse.”

Making that state Illinois is a “worthwhile question to pursue,” the mayor said.

Pritzker’s chief-of-staff Anne Caprara said when it comes time for the Democratic National Committee to discuss its primary voting structure, a very real push will be made to make Illinois the lead the nation in the nominating process.

“We would absolutely make the case that Illinois should be first,” said Caprara, who also ran Hillary Clinton’s 2016 super PAC.

As Iowans gathered to caucus on Monday night, Pritzker tweeted his support for Illinois to become an early voting state. The Chicago Democrat’s tweet was posted at 8:17 p.m. — before the caucuses had concluded, and before technical problems led to a big embarrassment, and no results, from the Iowa Democratic Party.

“If you’re looking for a state whose people represent the diversity of America, look no further than Illinois,” Pritzker tweeted on his political account. “It’s time for the most representative state in the country to be the first in the nation.”

The Illinois governor tweeted that message along with a link to an NPR story about a “Perfect State Index” of which states should go first if New Hampshire and Iowa are “too white to go first.”

Pritzker’s message was retweeted by hundreds, including Lightfoot.

The Democratic governor has been mum about early support for any of his party’s presidential candidates. But Pritzker and his wife, M.K. Pritzker, contributed at least $14.7 million to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Lighfoot — in Washington on Tuesday for the State of the Union address — said whether Illinois should become the first primary state is a “worthwhile question to pursue.”

“The dynamics of the Democratic electorate and the dynamics of the people who are going to run for president have forever been changed,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times. “And I think we have to think, give serious consideration to starting with a state that’s diverse.”

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot shakes hands with Gov. J.B. Pritzker after a meeting in his offices at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.
Then Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot shakes hands with Gov. J.B. Pritzker after a meeting in his offices at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield last year. File Photo.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP)

With New Hampshire and Iowa taking the lead, Lightfoot said minority candidates in this cycle were at a disadvantage, specifically mentioning former candidates Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Cory Booker and Julian Castro.

Lightfoot said it’s an issue Democrats, including the governor, “need to press the DNC on to consider.”

“This is a longer conversation about whether or not Iowa and New Hampshire have an outsize role in selecting Democratic nominees in an era now when we have very diverse groups of people that are running for president,” Lightfoot said.

Pushing Illinois to be the new Iowa would mean when the Democratic National Committee gathers its committees to discuss the 2024 primary calendar, especially in light of the Iowa caucus mess, Pritzker and his team will be making a pitch.

Pritzker would have to be willing to back moving up the Illinois primary ahead of mid-March. Illinois in 2008 moved up the primary date in order to help then U.S. Sen. Barack Obama clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. This year, Illinois’ primary is on March 17, along with Arizona, Florida and Ohio.

Barack Obama and his wife Michelle take the stage at the Hyatt Hotel February 5, 2008 in Chicago.
Then Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and his wife Michelle take the stage for a Super Tuesday post-primary rally at the Hyatt Hotel February 5, 2008 in Chicago.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

“We feel that we have a really strong case to make about Illinois. That it is geographically, ethnically and economically very diverse. We sit in the Midwest in the middle of a lot of states that are important to the presidential election calendar. That if you come to this state, you’re going to have to campaign in urban areas and rural areas, and all different types of communities,” Caprara said. “And that’s really a great proving ground for a presidential election.”

But even as Iowa is caught in the glare of the national spotlight for its massive caucus night mess, Illinois is no stranger to its own election-related embarrassments.

Just this week, the Illinois State Board of Elections said 774 former Illinois prison inmates had their registrations mistakenly canceled. Last month, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s office said it allowed at least 4,700 16-year-olds to begin the voter registration process — before those applications were terminated.

Also in January, the state Board of Elections said as many as 14 non-citizens appeared to have cast ballots in elections, after White’s office admitted 545 self-identified non-U.S. citizens were mistakenly registered to vote through the state’s new automatic registration system. Pritzker joined those calling for an investigation into the snafu.

Asked if Pritzker had reached out to the Illinois Democratic Party and its chair, Mike Madigan, about moving up the Illinois primary, Caprara said Pritzker’s team has been “talking to a bunch of people about it.”

The Illinois Democratic Party on Tuesday opted not to weigh in on the matter, according to a spokeswoman.

The push, Caprara said, will be years in the making — but is already gaining some muscle.

“We certainly saw a lot of support last night when the governor tweeted,” Caprara said. “I think overall we feel pretty strongly that, you know, Illinois sent Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama to the White House. If you can win here, you can win pretty much anywhere.”

Tina Sfondeles reported from Chicago; Lynn Sweet reported from Washington, D.C.