With decisive support throughout the state, J.B. Pritzker — the billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist who put in more than $69 million of his own fortune into his gubernatorial campaign — has won the Democratic nomination.
With his lead too strong to be overcome by businessman Chris Kennedy and State Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, the race was called early. Pritzker was leading with 45 percent of the vote, followed by Biss with 26 percent, and Kennedy with 24 percent, with 95 percent of precincts reporting.
“I’m not going to let Donald Trump have an inch of Illinois. And I will take every inch of Illinois back from Bruce Rauner,” Pritzker vowed during his victory speech Tuesday night.
Pritzker said he waged a campaign that was rich in “gender, race and economic diversity.” And he said he’s beginning a general election “about issues that are as bold as they are big,” including wages, health care and education.
Pritzker thanked labor unions, many of which gave his campaign a major boost.
“Let’s fight to protect our labor unions because they fight to protect our workers,” Pritzker said, adding he wants to pass a $15 minimum wage.
He made reference to an, at times, difficult campaign. And the spotlight that shined on his personal and professional life.
“I’m not a perfect person. I’m not going to pretend to be. And frankly I’ve had enough of people like Donald Trump, people like Bruce Rauner who can never acknowledge a flaw, never offer an apology and never take responsibility for anything or anyone under their care.”
Pritzker had been plagued by several controversies during his campaign, which began last May, including the release of FBI wiretaps featuring unfavorable conversations he had with imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. It also included a Chicago Sun-Times investigation that found Pritzker saved $230,000 in property taxes by leaving a Gold Coast mansion he owns in disrepair, in part by ripping out toilets. But a strong field operation and the $7 million increments that he put in himself kept his campaign going — from signs and fliers to continuous TV ads.
Backing by Democratic strongholds and unions helped to spread his message. Pritzker thanked U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, as well as Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza in his speech to supporters.
The Pritzker campaign said there was strong enthusiasm amongst the Democratic base particularly with African-American voters, downstate Democrats and women. And they cited a record Democratic turnout — more than 200 percent higher than in 2014 and 30 percent higher than in the last competitive race in 2010.
“Bottom line: the Democratic base came out,” the campaign said.
That’s what happens when the state’s Democratic organization laser focuses in on one candidate early on in a primary. Kennedy and Biss hoped to attract progressive voters. But both struggled with the piles of endorsement and the piles of cash Pritzker kept adding on.
Kennedy conceded to his supporters just before 9 p.m., thanking his campaign team.
In his speech, Kennedy vowed to put his support behind Pritzker as he tries to defeat Rauner in November.
“The voters of Illinois have spoken, and now we must follow their lead and give Mr. Pritzker the support that he has earned,” Kennedy said.
Biss conceded around 9:35 p.m., saying he called Pritzker to concede and to talk “about the road ahead.”
For his part, the state senator won the counties of Champaign and McLean, both home to several colleges and universities.
Madison County Schools Supt. Bob Daiber, former CeaseFire director Tio Hardiman and Burr Ridge doctor Robert Marshall each received about 1 percent of the vote, with 95 percent of precincts reporting.
The Republican Governors Association was quick to denounce Pritzker’s win.
“Illinoisans know that J.B. Pritzker will never stand up to Mike Madigan and with Mike Madigan’s handpicked candidate for governor on the ballot, this race will be a referendum on the tax-hiking, corrupt political machine that has bankrupted Illinois,” RGA spokesman Jon Thompson said in a statement.
Contributing: Connor Carynski and Pete Grieve