Gubernatorial candidate Jesse Sullivan will begin taking his message to the airwaves starting Saturday, making him the first Republican challenger to Gov. J.B. Pritzker to run TV commercials.
Sullivan’s 30-second biographical ad features his family, stops on the campaign trail and photos from his time in Afghanistan as a uniformed civilian assisting the U.S. military — images one GOP rival argued do “a disservice to the voters” by implying that Sullivan was a veteran.
The photos of Sullivan in uniform are part of the ad underscoring his “service,” one of his “core values.”
“Growing up in central Illinois, I learned these core values of faith, family and service,” Sullivan says in the ad. “It’s where I want to raise my kids and my grandkids. But Illinois is now known for three things: high taxes, corruption and crime.
“My name is Jesse Sullivan, and I’m running to be the next governor of Illinois. Together, let’s fight to make Illinois Strong.”
In a statement accompanying the launch of the ads, Sullivan said Illinoisans are “sick of a governor who has raised taxes rather than addressed mismanagement of public funds, who has broken his promise to end partisan gerrymandering and who has ignored the epidemic of violence plaguing our cities.”
“J.B. Pritzker believes that he can spend his way past four years of harmful policies that have cost people jobs, sent businesses fleeing and allowed crime to flourish,” Sullivan said.
“The #ILStrong movement is about empowering the people of this state who make us strong in spite of political mismanagement ... We welcome all who feel abandoned and left behind by weak political leadership to Team Sully.”
A venture capitalist whose firm, Alter Global, is based in Illinois but has connections to California, Sullivan entered the race in early September with $10,780,000 in the bank, a sum raised from seven out-of-town supporters in just five days.
That drew the ire of two Republican candidates already in the race — state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, and businessman Gary Rabine — who called Sullivan an ally of “Silicon Valley elites.”
Former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo, who is also vying to be the Republican nominee for governor, has welcomed Sullivan’s entry into the race, but on Friday, he took issue with his opponent’s ad.
“Jesse Sullivan is not a veteran, and a TV advertisement that implies he is does a disservice to the voters of Illinois, who deserve better,” Schimpf said in a statement.
Schimpf spent 20 years in the U.S. Marines, at one point serving as the nation’s top adviser to prosecutors trying Saddam Hussein.
Sullivan’s campaign said in response to Schimpf’s statement Sullivan is “proud of his service as an Army civilian. That service has only deepened his respect for veterans and first responders who keep us safe at home and abroad.”
Sullivan was part of the Army’s Human Terrain System, a group of civilians with social science backgrounds tasked with helping military commanders understand the local populations. He does not have veteran status.
His campaign has acknowledged Sullivan was a civilian serving on a small team that would “embed with a military unit.”
A spokesman for Bailey said Sullivan “can spend all the Silicon Valley liberal money he wants, but Illinois voters know that Darren Bailey is the fighter they need to take on J.B. Pritzker and put working families first.”
A spokesman for Rabine declined to comment.
In his debut video, Sullivan billed himself as an “outsider” who wants to “solve problems and deliver results for our neighbors in need.”
Noah Sheinbaum, a spokesman for Sullivan’s campaign, said the ad will air statewide for five weeks on a “variety of cable networks and times of day,” as well as digital and streaming platforms in eight out of 10 designated market areas; those areas include Chicago, Springfield, Decatur, Rockford and Champaign.
Asked why the campaign is going on TV now, eight months before the June 2022 primary, Sheinbaum said, “We think it’s really important that voters get to know who Jesse is.”
As a “first-time political candidate and outsider, we think it’s important that folks get to know who he is” and that there’s a “credible” alternative to Pritzker, Sheinbaum said.
Pritzker is already airing TV ads, promoting his record, including his response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first-term Democratic governor was the first in the race to appear on TV for the 2022 election.
Just days after launching his reelection bid, Pritzker rolled out three of his own TV ads in July featuring everyday Illinoisans and their contributions to helping the state through the COVID-19 pandemic.
A campaign spokeswoman said the ads will appear on broadcast and cable TV statewide, and versions of the clips will also appear on social media.