Democrats render different verdict on defense lawyers in ad blasting Republican Irvin in governor’s race
It’s certainly not the first time the Democratic Governors Association has tried to influence a GOP primary for Illinois governor. But Republican Richard Irvin’s campaign said the new ad shows “Pritzker is running scared,”
Just days after Gov. J.B. Pritzker offered up the sympathetic view that there’s more to criminals than their original crimes, national Democrats — on the governor’s behalf — on Thursday began airing a commercial vilifying Republican challenger Richard Irvin for his work as a criminal defense attorney.
The Democratic Governors Association has been hammering Irvin, whom they view as Pritzker’s most formidable would-be competitor, since Jan. 17, the day the Aurora mayor kicked off his primary run.
The 30-second television ad, running in major TV markets including Chicago, Rockford, Champaign and Peoria, accuses Irvin of “profiting by defending some of the most violent and heinous criminals,” including domestic abusers, a kidnapper who molested a child and child pornographers.
“Tell Richard Irvin to stop pretending to be tough on crime and start supporting policies to keep people safe,” a narrator says.
Irvin, an Army veteran, worked as a prosecutor in Cook and Kane counties before starting a law practice in Aurora and serving nearly 15 years as a criminal defense attorney. He became Aurora’s first Black mayor in 2017.
The DGA is trying to paint Irvin as a flip flopper on issues, including COVID-19 protocols. They’re also spotlighting his silence on whether he supports former President Donald Trump, who remains extremely popular with many conservative voters in the state.
Since January, the Democratic organization’s website has posted more than a dozen press releases targeting Irvin — and only one on any of the other five GOP gubernatorial candidates during that period.
It’s certainly not the first time the national Democratic organization has tried to influence a GOP primary for Illinois governor. In 2018, it released an ad calling former state Rep. Jeanne Ives “just too conservative for Illinois.”
The goal was to try to actually bolster support among those conservatives for Ives, whom they believed would have been easier to beat in the general election than Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner ultimately beat Ives by less than three percentage points in the 2018 primary and went on to lose to Pritzker that November.
Democrats are repeating that strategy this year.
National Democratic organizations, and Pritzker, would rather the Democratic incumbent face a Republican such as ultra-conservative state Sen. Darren Bailey, than Irvin, whom Democrats believe has a better chance of winning GOP votes in heavily populated northern Illinois, including Chicago, suburban Cook County and the collar counties of Kane, Lake, DuPage, McHenry and Will.
The Irvin campaign on Thursday said the new ad shows “Pritzker is running scared,” accusing the Democratic organization of intervening in the GOP primary because “Irvin is their worst nightmare” — a line the Republican has used in his own TV ads.
Irvin’s team called the Democratic ad a “smear campaign against Richard Irvin and his strong record as a combat veteran, former prosecutor, and successful crime-fighting mayor of Illinois’ second largest city.”
The Democratic Governors Association ad strikes a starkly different tone than Pritzker has in recent days.
The governor’s week began Monday with one of his appointees to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board resigning, and another being rejected by the Illinois Senate, over their votes to grant parole to convicted killers, including several who had slain police officers. The bipartisan rejection of one appointee and resignation of another was a bad look for Pritzker, who is being hit by accusations that he’s not doing enough to stem crime in the state.
Pritzker responded on Tuesday by defending his prisoner review board, saying they were doing a difficult and thankless job, and were required to look at more than just the crimes the people seeking parole had committed, including rehabilitation in prison and the statements of victims and their families.
“It’s very easy just to say this person committed an awful crime some many years ago and to say, ‘We’re going to throw away the key and leave them all in prison,’” Pritzker said. “That’s what you’re going to end up with. If that’s what people want, well, let’s hear it then. But I don’t think that’s what people wanted when we created the Prisoner Review Board.”
The attack on defense attorneys is happening in the national spotlight as well. For weeks, Republicans scrutinized U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson over her record as a former public defender. In response, Democrats said the criticism ignored a basic principle of the justice system, that the Constitution ensures everyone deserves the right to be represented by counsel.
In Illinois, it appears the Republicans might have to use that argument against the Democrats.