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West Coast venture capitalist enters gov race as ‘outsider’ who can beat Pritzker — but GOP rivals dub him ally of ‘Silicon Valley elites’

In a campaign video, Illinois native Jesse Sullivan, founder of Alter Global in San Francisco, stresses his roots growing up in central Illinois and the values he learned in “the Land of Lincoln.”

Republican candidate for governor Jesse Sullivan
Republican candidate for governor Jesse Sullivan
Sullivan Campaign

San Francisco venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan kicked off his campaign for governor on Thursday, giving Gov. J.B. Pritzker his first Republican challenger with an eight-figure bank account.

Sullivan raised $10,780,000 from seven out-of-town supporters in just five days.

That’s more than five times what the three Republicans who are already in the race have taken in all year combined.

But it’s less than a third of what Pritzker raised earlier this year in just one day — $35 million from his own deep pockets.

Despite all that, the three Republicans already in the field say cash can’t win elections, and Illinoisans want someone who understands “the Heartland” not an out-of-towner supported by the “big checkbooks” of the “Silicon Valley elites.”

In his Thursday debut, Sullivan billed himself as an “outsider” who wants to “solve problems and deliver results for out neighbors in need.”

His campaign released an announcement video Thursday morning ahead of a downstate news conference in the afternoon.

The video features the downstate native and founder of Alter Global in San Francisco stressing his roots growing up in central Illinois and the values he learned in “the Land of Lincoln.”

“This fight is about insiders, who talk a good game, versus us outsiders, who actually want to solve problems and deliver results for our neighbors in need,” Sullivan says in the campaign video.

“This fight it will not stop, I promise you, until this era in Illinois of high taxes, crime, corruption comes to an end. So today amongst all of you I have an announcement. My name is Jesse Sullivan, and I’m running to be the next governor of Illinois.”

Sullivan, 37, will “focus on three core issues: strengthening the Illinois economy, leaving the state’s historic corruption in the past, and addressing the crime hurting Illinois families,” according to his campaign.

But on Thursday, much of the focus was on fundraising.

The native of downstate Petersburg reported taking in $10,780,000 in donations between last Friday and Tuesday from five California contributors and two others from Texas and Colorado.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jesse Sullivan speaks to supporters in a campaign video released Thursday.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Jesse Sullivan speaks to supporters in a campaign video released Thursday.
Campaign video

The largest donation was $5 million from Chris Larsen, billionaire co-founder and board chairman of San Francisco-based global financial firm Ripple.

Larsen has a net worth of $3.4 billion, according to Forbes. It was not immediately clear what Sullivan’s net worth is.

Another $4 million came from Kevin Taweel, CEO of Asurion, in San Mateo, California, described on the company website as “the world’s largest provider of technology protection services.”

Sullivan’s GOP rivals sought to make Sullivan’s cash advantage a liability, focusing on the home addresses of Sullivan and his contributors.

Businessman Gary Rabine of northwest suburban Bull Valley said the West Coast tech hub’s values “are not the values of the Republican Party here in the heartland.”

“To defeat Pritzker’s War on Families, Illinois will elect a candidate who is vested in the culture of small businesses and families in Illinois, not California,” Rabine said.

Suburban businessman Gary Rabine, left, in March; State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, center; former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, right.
Suburban businessman Gary Rabine, left, in March; State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, center; former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, right.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file; Facebook

“While Jesse Sullivan has been partnered with Silicon Valley elites, I have been creating jobs for working families right here in Illinois. ... Republican voters know I am the candidate best able to end the war on families in Illinois.”

State Sen. Darren Bailey of downstate Xenia, issued a similar statement, saying Illinois needs a governor who understands the “Heartland,” someone who’s “made a life here and shares our values.”

“Our so-called ‘elites’ and their big checkbooks have had their run of things for too long,” Bailey’ said. “We think it’s time the regular folks in this state have their say. Illinois has more promise and is more conservative than San Francisco, so I welcome him back to our great state and into the race.”

Former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of downstate Waterloo offered a more sincere welcome, saying in a statement “another robust campaign spreading the message that J.B. Pritzker is undeserving of reelection is good news for the Illinois Republican Party.”

Rabine, Schimpf and Bailey all entered the race in February or March. So far this year, Rabine has reported raising $900,258.98, Bailey $913,012.06 and Schimpf $225,571.

Pritzker officially launched his reelection campaign in July, after seeding his campaign fund with $35 million in March, calling it a “preventative measure” against Republicans who “try to attack ... or to, frankly, lie about the Democratic agenda.”

The billionaire Democrat spent $171 million of his own fortune on his 2018 bid to oust then Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a battle that went down as one of the most expensive gubernatorial races in American history.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference in August.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference in August.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Pritzker’s net worth is an estimated $3.6 billion, according to Forbes.

At an unrelated news conference Thursday, Pritzker shrugged off his latest GOP challenger, saying the Republican field is a “mess,” and candidates are “beating up on each other.”

“All I can say is that I’m focused on the issues that are really important to the people of Illinois,” Pritzker said.

“Certainly that includes dealing with violent crime, but, very importantly, protecting a woman’s right to choose, expanding business opportunity and economic opportunity for people to get jobs and then focusing on working people and getting a good wage for people. Republicans want to take us backward — I want to take us forward.”