Battle station? Irvin, Bailey to square off in first televised debate with all six GOP primary candidates

The debate Thursday evening will be the first chance for voters to see the apparent frontrunners, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin and state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, go head-to-head.

SHARE Battle station? Irvin, Bailey to square off in first televised debate with all six GOP primary candidates
Republican gubernatorial candidates Richard Irvin, left, and Darren Bailey, right, in May.

Republican gubernatorial candidates Richard Irvin, left, and Darren Bailey, right, in May.

Rich Hein; Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

All six Republican primary candidates for governor have told event organizers that they plan to appear together Thursday in a high-stakes televised debate.

The debate will be the first chance for voters to see the apparent frontrunners, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin and state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, go head-to-head.

ABC 7 on Tuesday confirmed that all six Republican candidates, which also includes former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo, Bull Valley businessman Gary Rabine, Hazel Crest attorney Max Solomon and Petersburg venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan, have agreed to participate in the debate on Thursday at 7 p.m.

The debate, held in partnership with the League of Women Voters of Illinois and Univision, comes a week after the candidates split off in separate events that aired consecutively on NBC and WGN, amid network and campaign drama.

Irvin, Solomon and Schimpf appeared in the NBC debate, while Rabine, Bailey and Sullivan participated in the WGN debate.

NBC5 Political Reporter Mary Ann Ahern, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin and Hazel Crest lawyer Max Solomon.

NBC5 Political Reporter Mary Ann Ahern, left, moderates a debate last week between Republican candidates for governor, left to right, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin and Hazel Crest lawyer Max Solomon.

MAX.PRO.PHOTOGRAPHY

With Bailey and Irvin in separate TV studios, neither event last week sparked much fireworks between candidates. Irvin spent most of his time sparring with NBC 5 political reporter Mary Ann Ahern as the moderator tried to pin him down on questions he’s been evading.

And Bailey saved his sharpest attack for the city of Chicago, calling it “a crime-ridden, corrupt, dysfunctional hellhole.”

Bailey painted the WGN debate as the “true Republican” debate and claimed Irvin didn’t want to face him, but Irvin was the first to commit to the NBC debate.

Republicans Jesse Sullivan, Darren Bailey, and Gary Rabine prepare for a debate at WGN’s studios on Tuesday.

Republicans Jesse Sullivan, Darren Bailey, and Gary Rabine prepare for a debate at WGN’s studios on Tuesday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Independent polling, and Irvin’s own campaign polling, has suggested the race is close, with Irvin taking the lead and Bailey trailing close behind.

There are also plenty of undecided voters. A poll conducted between May 6 and 8 from WGN-TV, The Hill and Emerson College Polling found Irvin leading the field with 24.1%, followed by Bailey with 19.8% — with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Rather than on debate stages, the race is largely being played out via millions of dollars worth of competing TV campaign ads.

The $50 million in campaign contributions from Irvin’s main benefactor, Ken Griffin, has allowed Irvin’s campaign to consistently run ads since the Aurora mayor announced his run in late January. Some of those Griffin funds are also being used to help others on the so-called “Griffin slate,” including Republican primary candidates John Milhiser, who is running for Illinois secretary of state, and Steve Kim, candidate for Illinois attorney general.

Bailey has benefitted from an influx of campaign money from Lake Forest GOP megadonor Dick Uihlein, allowing the downstate state senator to air more statewide ads in recent weeks.

Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, left; Lake Forest GOP megadonor Dick Uihlein, right.

Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, left; Lake Forest GOP megadonor Dick Uihlein, right.

Sun-Times file photos.

Both Bailey and Irvin have gone after one another in their ads, in addition to painting favorable pictures of themselves and lobbing potshots at Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Primary Election Day is June 28, although early voting began in most of Illinois last week and in Chicago on Tuesday.

Thursday’s debate will be broadcast live on ABC 7’s digital channel 7.2 and will stream live on abc7chicago.com and the ABC 7 app. It will air on ABC 7’s main channel on Friday, June 3 at 10:35 p.m.

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