A Richard Irvin radio interview gave his GOP primary opponents a chance to pounce

Irvin told WJPF Radio host Tom Miller, “I’ve always been opposed to mandates.” But it has been known that he strongly supported state mandates as mayor of Aurora.

SHARE A Richard Irvin radio interview gave his GOP primary opponents a chance to pounce
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin in 2019.

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

I was a bit flabbergasted to see last week that Republican gubernatorial candidate Richard Irvin told a blatant falsehood on a southern Illinois radio station. But what came after that helps us see how the Republican primary will play out for the next four and a half months.

If you follow my blog, CapitolFax.com, you know Irvin flatly told WJPF Radio host Tom Miller, “I’ve always been opposed to mandates” when Miller asked what he thought about Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan to phase out the state’s mask mandate. Irvin added that Pritzker is “making his decisions based on politics.”

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Turns out, though, Irvin strongly supported state mandates as mayor of Aurora. He warned his city’s business owners in September 2020 to make sure their customers were wearing masks and threatened to impose fines on scofflaws.

A few months earlier, he heaped praise on the governor’s COVID-19 response, which included stay-at-home orders and mask mandates. Even back then, at the height of the first wave, those mandates were openly being criticized by some Republicans. After noting the governor had telephoned him the night before to explain his latest virus mitigation plan, Irvin told area reporters he pledged the support of Aurora “to do our part to help in the statewide effort.”

I am a regular listener of Tom Miller’s radio interviews. He is smart, polite and non-confrontational, qualities that attract important guests from across the political spectrum. For my purposes, Miller (no relation) usually puts his interview subjects at ease, which can often lead to them saying what’s really on their minds. He’s invaluable.

I knew Irvin had appeared on Miller’s show, but I didn’t get a chance to listen to the online recording until I received a press release from the Democratic Governors Association titled: “Richard Irvin Does a Complete 180 on COVID Mandates.”

After listening to the interview and watching an accompanying Irvin press conference video and then reading an attached news story from Chicago’s ABC-7, I put a blog post together and moved on.

Later, though, it struck me how truly amateurish the other Republican gubernatorial candidates really are. Big-time campaigns in an important state like Illinois usually have people assigned to monitoring their opponents’ public comments for just the sort of prevarications that Irvin was caught in last week. Only Irvin wasn’t called out by the Republicans, but by the Democrats.

That the Democrats would be interested in stopping Irvin before he makes it to the general election is no surprise at all. He’s a (so far) successful African American mayor of the second-largest city in the state. And while he will win over some usually Democratic-supporting Black voters if he makes it out of the primary and into the general election, his presence on the ballot could well drive down the all-important Black turnout, which would damage not only Pritzker but the rest of the Democratic ticket throughout the state.

The same people who are running Irvin’s campaign did just that in 2014. Enough Black voters stayed away from the polls that, partly as a result, Republican Bruce Rauner defeated incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn.

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Rauner also did better in the hugely important suburbs than Quinn expected, and Irvin’s backers are hoping their candidate’s anti-crime messaging, along with a pledge to balance things out between the government and progressive interests, will help him do well in the ‘burbs.

“Don’t underestimate how much of this is about making suburban white women comfortable about voting for a campaign full of dog whistles,” recently warned one top Black Democratic strategist, who isn’t usually a paranoid type.

So, I suppose the Republican candidates feel they don’t need to invest in opposition research and trackers as long as they know the Democrats will handle all the heavy lifting for them.

But in this particular case, almost all of those Republicans can honestly say, unlike Irvin, “I’ve always been opposed to mandates.” They really missed a major opportunity to pounce.

And because they haven’t built out that crucial campaign infrastructure, the Republican candidates are less able to anticipate and respond to Irvin’s campaign, which has shown an adeptness at digging stuff up about the rest of the field, particularly Darren Bailey and Jesse Sullivan.

Many of the hits you’ve been seeing on those two candidates are coming from the Irvin camp. Gary Rabine and Paul Schimpf have apparently not been enough of a factor in the primary to warrant much attention.

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

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