Pritzker ties GOP challengers to Trump’s ‘big lie’ and other ‘crazy things’ ex-president says: ‘We don’t want to go backwards’

GOP hopefuls accused the sitting Democratic governor of “deflecting” from real issues. “Pritzker has to focus on Trump because he can’t talk about the COVID chaos he has created, Republican rival Gary Rabine said.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker makes a campaign stop and shakes hands with constituents after a roundtable discussion about the November election at the Evanston home of Steven and Cynthia Franklin, Friday morning, Feb. 11, 2022.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker makes a campaign stop and shakes hands with constituents after a roundtable discussion about the November election at the Evanston home of Steven and Cynthia Franklin, Friday morning, Feb. 11, 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

As he ramps up his reelection bid, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday took some of his sharpest shots yet at Republican challengers, accusing them of buying into “crazy” messages spread by former President Donald Trump, including false conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

In one of Pritzker’s first public campaign appearances since formalizing his run for a second term last summer, the Democratic incumbent told a small group of north suburban supporters that anyone in the five-man race for the GOP nomination would send Illinois “backwards.”

“Some of these folks who are running on the Republican side — maybe all of them, I’m not sure — don’t accept the results of the 2020 elections. … [They] question whether elections are fair in Illinois, and they can’t even call out the former President Trump when he says crazy things about our country.

“I worry that having a governor in the sixth-most populous state in the country, and the fifth-largest economy in the county — in the center of the country — you know, the governor being someone who believes in the big lie? That’s not who we are in Illinois,” Pritzker said.

President Donald Trump, left, in April of 2020; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, on March 30, 2020.

President Donald Trump, left, in April of 2020; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right, on March 30, 2020.

Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images; Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

During a 45-minute conversation with seniors held in the living room of Evanston residents Cynthia and Steven Franklin, the Chicago Democrat mostly touted the state’s improved finances under his administration, and pushed his latest budget proposal. Asked what was on the line in November’s general election, Pritzker warned “we don’t want to go backwards.”

“We’re doing better than I think people would expect, and I think changing course would be a bad direction,” the billionaire governor said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker makes a campaign stop and chats with Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen (center, left) and others during a roundtable discussion Friday morning.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker makes a campaign stop and chats with Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen (center, left) and others during a roundtable discussion about the November election at the Evanston home of Steven and Cynthia Franklin, Friday morning.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Pritzker — whose public schedule has been light on campaign appearances, though his ads have flooded the airwaves — is sure to continue trying to tie GOP challengers to Trump, who garnered about 41% of Illinois’ vote in 2020 to President Joe Biden’s 58%.

But the reality TV star-turned-Republican-president remains enormously popular in many downstate counties, posing a conundrum for the GOP candidates vying in the June 28 primary for the chance to face Pritzker in November.

The Republicans say Pritzker is trying to shift the focus from issues such as rising crime.

Bull Valley businessman Gary Rabine pushed back in an email, saying: “My concern is that voting isn’t fraudulent and that as many people that want to do vote. Pritzker has to focus on Trump because he can’t talk about the COVID chaos he has created and the fact that Chicago, the largest city in his state, is now the crime capital of the country.”

Former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, said Pritzker was “telling half-truths to the voters of Illinois to distract from his failure to address election integrity in any meaningful way.

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, left, in 2019; Suburban businessman Gary Rabine, center, last year; Former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, right.

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, left, in 2019; Suburban businessman Gary Rabine, center, in March; Former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, right.

Patrick Kunzer/Daily Herald-file; Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times-file; Facebook

“Back in the early spring of 2021, I announced during a TV interview that the legal challenges were over and that I accepted Joe Biden as my President,” Schimpf said in a statement.

Unlike most of the other candidates, state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, has actively courted far-right voters as an ardent Trump supporter.Through a spokesman, Bailey acknowledged “President Biden” and said Pritzker was “clearly deflecting,” but he wouldn’t directly say whether he thinks the 2020 election results were valid.

On Wednesday, Bailey walked out of a Springfield news conference he and other Republicans called to respond to Pritzker’s phasing out of masking without answering a reporter’s question about the Jan. 6 insurrection or whether Bailey will accept the results of this year’s election.

“This is over with,” Bailey said as the reporter repeatedly asked the question about this year’s election. “That has nothing to do with what we’re here [for].”

State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, right, ends a Springfield news conference on Wednesday after a reporter asks him about accepting election results. State Rep. Adam Niemerg (R-Dieterich), left, and state Rep. Blaine Wilhour (R-Beecher City), center, also spoke at the event.

State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, right, ends a Springfield news conference on Wednesday after a reporter asks him about accepting election results. State Rep. Adam Niemerg (R-Dieterich), left, and state Rep. Blaine Wilhour (R-Beecher City), center, also spoke at the event.

Blue Room Stream

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, who has emerged as the Illinois Republican Party establishment’s pick for the nomination, has acknowledged in interviews that “Joe Biden is the president of the United States,” but Irvin has sidestepped other questions about Trump — including whether he voted for him.

Irvin’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment Friday. He too has hammered a law-and-order campaign message, releasing a new ad Friday boasting that “crime is down in Aurora because the police budget is up.”

Jesse Sullivan, a venture capitalist from downstate Petersburg, has also avoided discussing Trump since joining the race last summer. His campaign didn’t return a request for comment on Friday.

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