Blue-chip effort to paint state red? Top GOP donors pony up for Irvin in governor’s race — but Griffin not yet among them
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin put his first round of cash to use with a television ad portraying himself as a law-and-order candidate who “shut down the riots” as mayor amid 2020 civil unrest in Aurora, claiming he “called in the guard” to quell looting — although in reality, that power is reserved for the governor.
Republican Richard Irvin kicked his late-starting campaign for governor into high gear Tuesday, launching a tough-on-crime media blitz after reporting $1.2 million in contributions from a Who’s-Who of top Illinois GOP donors.
The initial list of Irvin’s deep-pocketed supporters leaves little doubt that the Aurora mayor is the establishment pick in the GOP primary field — but conspicuously absent from his donor roll so far is billionaire Ken Griffin.
Irvin jumped into the race last week, with the expectation among Republican insiders that Griffin would throw his seemingly limitless hedge fund fortune behind the suburban leader’s bid to unseat Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
For now, Irvin’s blue-chip contributors include horse racing mogul Craig Duchossois and Winnetka businessman James Frank, who chipped in a quarter-million dollars each. North suburban MacLean-Fogg Co. and Delaware-based Braveheart Investments Inc. also threw in $250,000 a piece.
Real estate billionaire Sam Zell gave $100,000 to Irvin’s campaign, as did cosmetics tycoon Ron Gidwitz, who led fundraising for Republican former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s winning bid in 2014. An unsuccessful past gubernatorial candidate himself, Gidwitz also led Republican financing in Illinois for the 2016 race for Donald Trump, who as president appointed Gidwitz ambassador to Belgium and acting ambassador to the European Union.
Irvin put his first round of cash to use with a television ad portraying himself as a law-and-order candidate who “shut down the riots” as mayor amid 2020 civil unrest in Aurora, claiming he “called in the guard” to quell looting — although in reality, that power is reserved for the governor.
Insiders expect much bigger checks to be cut soon for Irvin. A spokesperson for Griffin — who has vowed to flex all his financial might to take down Pritzker — declined to comment beyond the statements Illinois’ richest man made last week, when he said he was “excited” by Irvin’s candidacy.
The Democratic governor, a billionaire hotel heir himself, so far has dumped $90 million into his reelection campaign this year, on top of $35 million he kicked in last March as a “preventative measure” to protect against Republican attacks on the “Democratic agenda.”
Pritzker spent $171 million of his own money to beat Rauner in 2018, and the bad blood between the astronomically wealthy men has only kept boiling since Griffin spent more than $50 million to defeat Pritzker’s graduated income tax constitutional amendment in 2020.
The Democratic Party of Illinois has dismissed Irvin as a “Rauner Reboot” and slammed him Tuesday for not yet holding any public campaign appearances.
“And why won’t Irvin or the slate answer simple questions? Because Ken Griffin won’t let them,” Democrats said.
The rest of the slate running alongside Irvin consists of Deerfield attorney Steve Kim for attorney general; former Central District of Illinois U.S. Attorney John Milhiser for secretary of state; McHenry County Auditor Shannon Teresi for comptroller and state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, for state treasurer.
Irvin’s running mate for lieutenant governor is state Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville.
Irvin, an Army veteran and former prosecutor in Kane and Cook counties, became an instant front-runner when he jumped in the GOP primary field on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. His lesser known GOP rivals, who have been campaigning for almost a year, have pounced on the Republican credentials of Irvin, who cast a Democratic ballot in the 2016 primary.
“Richard Irvin is a left-leaning Democrat and does not support the policies that will end the crime wave in Illinois,” said Bull Valley businessman and GOP primary contender Gary Rabine.
Also running are state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia; former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo; and venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan of Petersburg.
Sullivan also launched his first TV spot Tuesday with a similar crime-fighting theme, arguing that “Pritzker’s leftist agenda is literally killing us, turning parts of Illinois into a war zone.”
Former Illinois Racing Board chairman Jeff Brincat, who tossed in $20,000 for Irvin, put the Aurora mayor at the top of the field that he said needs “to reemphasize the most basic responsibilities of government and safety of its citizens.”
“I think he’s going to do that,” Brincat said. “He’s certainly in a better position than anyone else to do it.”
Mitchell Armentrout reported from Chicago; Taylor Avery from Springfield