With five contenders in the Illinois GOP governor primary, former Gov. Jim Edgar said the Republicans need at the top of their ticket a “nominee who is not going to scare part of the state” in order to defeat Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other Democrats.
And while there may be people “mad” at Pritzker for the way he handled the COVID-19 pandemic — an issue animating the Republican base — “I think he did a pretty good job,” said Edgar, a Republican.
Overall, Edgar said of Pritzker, a billionaire, “I don’t think he’s messed up really bad.”
Edgar talked about the GOP governor primary on the February edition of “At the Table,” the Sun-Times political show.
When it comes to ideology, the GOP governor primary is bookended in the center right end by Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, backed by top Illinois GOP establishment major donors and billionaire Ken Griffin, who dropped $20 million in the Irvin campaign fund.
At the far right, Trump-aligned end, state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, is supported by mega GOP donor Richard Uihlein, who donated $1 million to Bailey’s campaign war chest. Bailey is seen as the leading contender to capture the Trump vote.
Also running are business executive Gary Rabine of Bull Valley; investor Jesse Sullivan of Petersburg; and former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo.
While 2022 should be a “better Republican year,” Edgar said, that will be “influenced by how the top of the ticket goes. So it’s important that the Republicans [have] a candidate at the top of the ticket, who is not going to scare part of the state” where voters will say “no way we’re going to vote for that guy.”
Referring to Irvin not by name, Edgar said, that’s a reason “some of the Republicans went out” and “tried to find somebody they thought might be more acceptable in the general election than some of the candidates already announced.”
Edgar did not name who he thought could “scare” voters.
A former two-term Illinois governor, elected in 1990 and 1994, and former secretary of state, Edgar now is distinguished fellow at the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs, where he leads the Edgar Fellows program.
In a conversation with show hosts Laura Washington and Lynn Sweet, Edgar said:
On Irvin, who was an Edgar Fellow in 2018: “I have to say I was a little surprised when he became a Republican candidate. Because I always perceived he was a Democrat. But so was Ronald Reagan, and he became a Republican, so people do switch.”
Changing to another party is not “a detriment. I don’t think that disqualifies somebody. But I do think he’ll be under more scrutiny probably in this primary, about maybe some of the statements he made before and what [are] his positions today,” Edgar said.
“I think it’s important to be transparent. So everyone kind of knows where that person is on the issues.”
On former President Donald Trump: “There’s no doubt Trump has a huge following in downstate Illinois. And, you know, I think his support or apparent support in a Republican primary probably plays well downstate. Now, it might hurt in the suburbs to some extent.”
“… I will say that though even though a lot of the party leaders might want to move on from Donald Trump, my sense is the rank-and-file Republicans still are pretty much locked in with him.”
On Republican candidates who dodge answering questions about whether President Biden is the elected president and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was an effort to overturn the presidential election: “I think it’s a legitimate question. It’s a major issue particularly if you’re talking law and order this campaign.”
Law and order is a major GOP campaign theme.
Pritzker’s biggest political vulnerability is: “There will be people mad about the way he handled the pandemic. I think he did a pretty good job.
“…There’s no doubt he’s, he’s more liberal, probably on some issues, than I think probably the state is….and his party is more liberal too.”
While Republicans have a “long term” problem with the Trump wing, “I think the Democrats have a real problem with the far left” with Democrats “even farther left to Bernie Sanders. So Gov. Pritzker has to deal with that, and I think that that can be an issue. I think he’s the favorite going into this race.
“An incumbent governor, unless they really mess up, and I don’t think he’s messed up really bad — there are some things I disagree with — they have an advantage.”
And “he’s not going to lack money. We know that. And he’ll spend it.”