April 7, 2021

J.B. Pritzker (D) was elected Illinois' governor in 2018 because he (1) spent $171 million of his fortune, (2) made the contest a referendum on the "failed" administration of former Republican governor Bruce Rauner and (3) Donald Trump was in the White House.

With the exception of Trump, it will be djˆ vu all over in 2022. (1) Pritzker will self-fund and spend close to $200 million. With a net worth of $3 billion, $200 million is sort of like pocket change spent at a carnival on those games that feature crappy prizes. (2) 2022 will be a referendum ON HIM - has Pritzker "failed," especially on COVID-19 containment? If the electorate perceives that it is so, then a Republican, being the only alternative, could win. And (3) there will be an anti-Biden-Harris as well as an anti-shutdown pushback, with conservatives and besieged small business owners/ workers energized like the anti-Trumpsters were in 2018.

According to my survey of state pollsters, Pritzker's current approval/disapproval is roughly 42-38, with 20 percent having "no opinion." By comparison, Rauner's approval was in the mid-30s in 2017-18. Pritzker beat him 2,797,746-1,765,751, getting 54.5 percent. Rauner defeated Pat Quinn (D) 1,823,672-1,680,343 in 2014.

So Rauner got 57,921 fewer votes in 2014, indicating that his conservative, anti-union, pro-business base essentially stayed intact, but Pritzker got 1,117,403 more votes than Quinn, indicating that he benefited from an anti-Trump surge in Illinois. That carried over to 2020 when Biden-Harris crushed Trump-Pence 3,471,915-2,446,891, in a turnout of 6,033,744, with minor candidates getting the rest.

Note that Clinton-Kaine also crushed Trump-Pence in 2016 by 3,090,725-2,146,015 in a turnout of 5,536,424. Also note that Trump got 300,876 MORE votes in 2020 than in 2016, while the anti-Trump surge gave Biden-Harris 381,190 MORE votes than Clinton. The question for 2022 is whether that anti-Trump "surge" has abated. The Republican base was just under 40 percent WITH the surge. Without a surge in 2022, that base creeps closer to 43-45 percent. And an anti-Biden surge, combined with a lower turnout of "woke" Democrats, puts the governorship in play.

Quinn won 1,745,219-1,713,385 in 2010, a margin of 31,834 votes in a turnout of 3.5 million. Rauner in 2014 won by 143,284 votes in a turnout of 3,672,690. 2018's turnout was over 4.2 million, 600,000 higher than 2014 and 700,000 higher than 2010. If 2022 turnout is in the realm of 3.6 million, not 2018Õs 4.2 million, a Republican could defeat Pritzker.

Let's not forget the embarrassing fate of Pritzker's much-touted "Fair Tax" constitutional amendment, which was going to solve Illinois fiscal problems by upping taxes on the incomes of "millionaires and billionaires." It lost 3,059,411-2,683,490 last November, failing by 386,329 votes to get the requisite 60 percent.

Two deep-pocket multi-millionaire Republican donors, Ken Griffin and Dick Uhleine, who previously bankrolled Rauner, funded the opposition, portraying it as "Madigan's tax increase." It worked. While the amendment won in Cook County, it failed in the collar counties and Downstate. It proved that a pocketbook issue, if properly packaged and funded, could win.
LetÕs also not forget that Pritzker is not Mike Madigan, the now-departed speaker. He cannot be saddled with allegations of ethical impropriety or tax hiking. His 2022 $41.6 billion budget proposal has spending cuts and not hikes, in large part due to the recently passed federal infrastructure bill, which directed several billion to Illinois. The 2023 budget, which must be passed by June 2022, may be another story.

The rap on Pritzker will be that his draconian COVID-19 shutdowns cost tens of thousands of Illinoisans their jobs and/or businesses.

He did nothing different than Democratic governors Andrew Cuomo (NY), Gavin Newsom (CA), Tom Wolf (PA), Gretchen Whitmer (MI) and Tony Evers (WI). The current COVID positivity rate is at 4.3 percent in Illinois. But voters watch Fox News and other sources and know that Republican governors Ron DeSantis (FL) and Greg Abbott (TX) have fully reopened their states, including schools, restaurants and bars. Their positivity rates are no higher than Illinois.

The issue will likely be moot in 19 months, but those most adversely impacted Ð like about 8 to 10 percent of the population Ð will remember that J.B. did not have their backs. And remember that all bureaucratic state employees, allegedly working "remotely" got paid. There are a few festering issues: Pritzker raised the pay of all state department directors to the $150,000-plus range, causing a half-dozen Democratic legislators to quit and grab those jobs so as to pad their pensions. There was a problem at IDES, delaying the issuance of unemployment checks after the pandemic peaked in mid-2020. Veterans are not happy about his handling of COVID outbreaks at veterans" homes. On the bright side, Pritzker's governance has not been so inept that he's being impeached (like Cuomo) or being recalled (like Newsom). As for schools, local school districts make that call.

Unlike the Democrats who are obsessed with identity politics, Republicans are obsessed with ideology. Rauner, despite constantly battling Speaker Madigan and the public sector, and thwarting a budget and tax increase for 2 years, was challenged in the 2018 primary by Jeanne Ives. She claimed Rauner WAS NOT conservative enough especially on abortion issues. Rauner narrowly beat Ives 372,124-350,038, in a turnout of 725,000, proving that almost one-half of the Republican base are hard-right, Trump-loving, gun-toting ideologues. That group's current cause is "reopening"

Illinois, an issue that should be moot by November 2022, but could be pivotal in a Republican primary.

The emerging 2022 Republican field consists of two right-wingers: state senator Darren Bailey of Downstate Louisville, who gained some notoriety for filing a lawsuit to bar Pritzker's extended stay-at-home edict, which was dismissed; and former state senator Paul Schimpf of Schaumberg. A check of their D-2s showed Bailey had $179,214 on-hand and Schimpf $62,529. Very unimpressive. The mainstream candidates are Gary Rabine, who owns a construction company, and has announced a run, and lawyer Richard Porter and Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, who have not announced. Both have personal wealth, but not in the realm of Pritzker's war chest.

"A Republican woman from the suburbs could be formidable" as a Pritzker opponent, said Democratic operative Sean Tenner. That will not happen. There aren't any. An Ives rerun, after losing a 2020 congressional race, makes her unelectable. With Madigan gone, Republicans have to run against Pritzker in 2022. Likewise, Pritzker will have to step up and help fund Democratic legislators and candidates. Much of Pritzker's 2018 money went for party building, which meant hiring workers and subsidizing county organizations. That infrastructure remains in-place.

The upcoming 2023 Virginia governor's race may be a harbinger. Term-limited Democratic incumbent Ralph Northam has been predictably shutdown happy. His lieutenant governor and a former governor are seeking the Democratic nomination. Trump lost Virginia 2,413,568-1,962,430 last year, getting 54.1 percent. Republicans could pick a woman at their convention (the parties have an option of either a primary or a convention). Virginia's schools are still not opened. If turnout is down by a quarter from 2020 and the Republican wins in a Blue state, it could indicate a developing nationwide anti-Biden-Harris surge.

That's what happened in Illinois in 2010 and 2014 Ð an anti-Obama surge. This much is clear: There is voter anger on the Right and among business entrepreneurs, which will be fueled by the unfolding Leftist Biden-Harris agenda. Governors like Cuomo, Newsom and Whitmer have approval ratings like Pritzker - in the low 40s. DeSantis and Abbott are hovering around 50 percent.

My prediction: Pritzker has to articulate a reason for Illinoisans to vote FOR him. It won't be "I didn't raise taxes." That turns off his liberal base. His COVID policies aren't vote-getters and have many people upset.

Pritzker will be a 2022 "status quo" candidate. His theme is that he did the best job possible in a difficult, unprecedented situation. The 2022 election will be about whether he could have done a BETTER job. J.B. will have to spend a lot of money to convince voters otherwise.

SECRETARY OF STATE: It's all about identity politics. Former state treasurer (2007-10) Alexi Giannoulias, who lost for U.S. Senator in 2010, and state senator Michael Hastings, from the Frankfort-Mokena area, are running.

The office, currently occupied by retiring Democrat Jesse White, is viewed as a steppingstone to governor or senator. It is doubtful that Pritzker, if re-elected, will run again in 2026.

Also running is Chicago city clerk Anna Valencia and Chicago Alderman Pat Dowell. Potential candidates include lieutenant governor Julia Stratton, Alderman Walter Burnett (27th), and county clerk Karen Yarbrough.

Outlook: Giannoulias has family money and is locking down support among white Democratic committeepersons and Downstate chairmen. But Downstate only provides one-quarter of the primary vote. With two guys running, either Valencia or Dowell potentially have a shot, but they divide their base.

Giannoulias is favored.