Republican Bailey’s forecast for ‘political climate’ of Illinois: A ‘storm’ is coming

Darren Bailey’s conservative campaign is targeting those he says have been forgotten and left behind. “The Republican establishment and the Democrats, they don’t have any idea some of these people exist and what they’re thinking,” he told the Sun-Times. “I think that what we do here in Illinois, not just on June 28, but the first Tuesday in November is going to send shockwaves.”

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey speaks to supporters in downstate Metropolis last week.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey speaks to supporters in downstate Metropolis last week.

Tina Sfondeles/Chicago Sun-Times

ANNA, Ill. — On a blustery April day in downstate Illinois, Republican Darren Bailey rounded up a group of about 50 supporters and vowed to them he’d represent the forgotten people of Illinois as their next governor.

“We’re going to take Illinois by storm,” Bailey said. “It’s the grassroots movement. It’s people who have never been involved in the political climate system.”

The crowd included retirees, state employees, volunteers and Andrea Hutcheson, a single mother of six from Anna — a town of about 4,500 residents in deep southern Illinois. Bailey’s campaign stop was the parking lot of a martial arts studio, just four miles from the site of one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858.

“I think there’s a whole movement going that’s a patriot movement,” Hutcheson, 41, said. “You’ve got your Republicans. You’ve got your Democrats, or your right wing and left wing, but I think there is a patriotic movement going on that I think is more profound than just the Republican party. And I do think Darren is part of that.”

Bailey, a 56-year-old state senator from Xenia, is building on that movement — the same one that inched former state Rep. Jeanne Ives within about 3% points of beating incumbent former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in the 2018 primary.

Andrea Hutcheson poses with state Sen. Darren Bailey at one of the gubernatorial candidate’s campaign stops in downstate Anna last week.

Andrea Hutcheson poses with state Sen. Darren Bailey at one of the gubernatorial candidate’s campaign stops in downstate Anna last week.

Tina Sfondeles/Chicago Sun-Times

A farmer with a distinctly Southern accent, Bailey has called himself the only true conservative in a crowded primary field of GOP candidates, which includes Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan, businessman Gary Rabine, state Sen. Paul Schimpf and Hazel Crest lawyer Max Solomon.

The Democratic Governors Association, which has already run one TV ad targeting Irvin, calls Bailey the “far right” candidate.

Bailey is a staunch supporter of former president Donald Trump. He is anti-abortion and has been a vocal critic of same-sex marriage, citing his Christian faith. He and his wife, Cindy, founded a pre-K–12 school in downstate Louisville that offers a “Christ-centered education.”

He’s also vowed to defend the Second Amendment, having voted against several gun control bills. He believes there should be a mandatory clearing of voter rolls every year and digital tracking of ballots, which he has deemed a Democratic election integrity problem.

State Sen. Darren Bailey makes a pitch for his campaign for governor in downstate Marion last week.

State Sen. Darren Bailey makes a pitch for his campaign for governor in downstate Marion last week.

Tina Sfondeles/Chicago Sun-Times

He says he’s a defender of freedom who will fight for the Constitution — and became a leader in a movement against Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 executive orders and mandates.

Bailey’s campaign staff is minimal, and he communicates to his supporters via his Twitter and Facebook pages. According to a campaign filing on April 18, Bailey reported $1,039,054.16 cash on hand. A day later, Lake Forest mega donor Richard Uihlein donated an additional $2.5 million.

Still, the cash flow is less than Irvin’s seemingly unlimited campaign coffers from billionaire funder Ken Griffin, who has already given Irvin $20 million. Irvin had about half of that left on March 31, but Griffin is expected to give him more if it’s needed.

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, left, in 2019 ; Hedge Fund billionaire Ken Griffin, right, in 2018.

File Photos by Patrick Kunzer/Daily Herald; Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

But while Bailey might fall a bit short of Irvin’s bankroll, he tries to make up for it with bravado.

On his personal voice mail, Bailey identifies himself as the “next governor of Illinois.” And a sign posted by a volunteer at one campaign stop invited voters to meet “Governor Elect Darren Bailey” — a title at best two elections away. (A campaign spokesperson told the Sun-Times later he hadn’t seen the sign until the article was published, adding there’s much more work to be done before the candidate can use that title.)

Election ‘going to send shockwaves’

Despite some of Bailey’s more divisive stances, the southern Illinois Republican’s goal is to reach out to voters who feel they don’t quite fit into the tidy frame of the traditional political parties — a similar campaign pitch to that of Trump’s. Where Bailey lives, 81.7% of voters in Clay County voted for Trump in 2020.

“It’s people who have not been involved. The Republican establishment and the Democrats, they don’t have any idea some of these people exist and what they’re thinking.

“They don’t have any idea that these people are fed up because these people don’t typically go to your Republican or Democrat meetings. They’re true people that are out working, and they found hope and are supporting our mission,” Bailey told the Sun-Times.

“I think that what we do here in Illinois, not just on June 28, but the first Tuesday in November is going to send shockwaves much more so than what the state of Virginia is doing.”

A sign Darren Bailey’s gubernatorial campaign posted at his stop in downstate Anna last week.

A sign posted by a volunteer at a Darren Bailey campaign stop in downstate Anna last week.

Tina Sfondeles/Chicago Sun-Times

And it appears Bailey’s statewide campaign may be picking up some steam, at least judging by the stack of mailers and attack ads coming his way from Irvin, whose campaign has been watching Bailey’s every public move with paid trackers. Bailey told the Sun-Times he’s getting those mailers at his home, too.

“Yes, it’s embarrassing. But that’s what they want,” Bailey said, arguing Irvin is trying to keep him playing defense. “They want to divert me.”

In stump speeches in Republican-friendly towns Anna, Metropolis and Marion on April 18, Bailey defended himself against what he called “lies” and “nonsense” in statewide television ads. Calling his supporters “great patriots” – borrowing another Trump tactic – Bailey also painted himself as a unifier for those in the state who believe in what he believes in — “conservative, common sense solutions.”

He’s telling his supporters he’s “leading in the polls drastically” and says he thinks it’s “awesome” that Pritzker would rather face him than Irvin in the November election.

While campaigns are conducting polling internally, no independent surveys have been released publicly. Bailey told the Sun-Times he was referring to early surveys that showed him with support in the 30% point range.

And with Irvin likely to pick up some support in suburban Chicago, Bailey is hoping to sneak in on the strength of Trump — who garnered 2,446,891 votes in Illinois in 2020.

He’s also actively seeking the former president’s endorsement, having met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago in December. Should Trump come to Illinois to support U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill, whom the former president has already endorsed in the newly drawn 15th Congressional District, Bailey’s campaign momentum would quickly accelerate. And a Trump endorsement for Bailey could potentially harm Irvin’s numbers.

“I would honor that,” Bailey said of welcoming a Trump rally. “I got to meet with him in December. So that seed’s been planted.”

‘From firebrand to anti-mandate leader’

Bailey won an Illinois House seat in 2018 and two years later faced no Democratic opposition in the race to succeed retiring GOP state Sen. Dale Righter.

In the House, Bailey was a firebrand, a vocal opponent of nearly everything — and an annoyance to House Republicans who didn’t quite match his set of beliefs. He was part of a House GOP group of lawmakers dubbed the “Eastern bloc,” which in 2019 called on Chicago to be separated from the rest of Illinois in what was a ceremonial resolution.

It called for Chicago to become the 51st state, because “the majority of residents in downstate Illinois disagree with City of Chicago residents on key issues such as gun ownership, abortion, immigration, and other policy issues.”

Calling it “an old resolution,” Bailey last year told the Sun-Times its purpose was not to kick Chicago out of Illinois but to give voice to those outside of the city who “are not happy and want to be heard.”

State Sen. Darren Bailey speaks during a campaign stop near the Superman statue in downstate Metropolis last week.

State Sen. Darren Bailey speaks during a campaign stop near the Superman statue in downstate Metropolis last week.

Tina Sfondeles/Chicago Sun-Times

Bailey was a vocal opponent of Pritzker’s stay-at-home order and challenged the governor in a lawsuit filed in April 2020 in Clay County Circuit Court. He won, sort of. A judge ruled Bailey was personally exempt from the executive order. From there, he hosted “Re-open Illinois” rallies across the state, challenging Pritzker’s COVID mitigations.

In May 2020, at the peak of the pandemic in Illinois, Bailey refused to wear a mask as lawmakers gathered in a makeshift special session in a Springfield convention center. He said then he was “representing the people” and garnered national attention as Americans, stuck at home, were glued to cable news channels watching the deadly pandemic unfold.

That fight continued. In February, Bailey gathered about 100 supporters at a Peoria bar to rally against mask mandates in the city’s schools.

At a campaign event in Metropolis in front of the downstate city’s famous Superman statue, Bailey said his anti-mandate movement inspired him to run for governor, and he wants to be viewed as the candidate who stood up for “freedom.”

“That’s my question. When you wonder who you’re going to support, who you’re going to get behind for governor, I just want you to just consider, where’s everybody else been for the last two years?” Bailey said.

“Where have they been? Have they been standing for your freedom? Have they been standing for your children and your schools? We unashamedly have been.”

Editor’s note: This report was updated since it appeared in print to include the campaign’s characterization of a sign at an event.


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