By Jim Ellis
March 21, 2018 — Land of Lincoln voters went to the polls yesterday to vote in the nation’s second primary of the 2018 midterm election season.
The headliner of Election Day was the gubernatorial primary, as Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), sporting poor job approval ratings but having virtually unlimited financial resources, squared off against conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton). Ives received early support in the form of a $2.5 million donation from mega-donor Dick Uihlein, but her standing did not greatly improve in the past weeks, meaning her long-shot campaign remained as such entering Election Day.
Because of significant dissatisfaction with Gov. Rauner within the GOP base constituency, Ives was projected to perform better than a typical candidate challenging a sitting governor in a party primary. Yet, her performance was not strong enough to deny Rauner from advancing into the general election. Rauner scored only a 51.5 – 48.5 percent win over Ives in a primary result that indicates the state chief executive’s GOP political base is eroding.
Yesterday’s most competitive race wasn’t the one most had predicted — on the Democratic side of the gubernatorial primary. Venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker had spent over $65 million of his own money in this campaign, and was fortunate to have drawn two equivalently strong intra-party opponents.
A new poll from Victory Research (March 13-16; 1,204 registered Illinois voters) — the last before the vote — found Pritzker with only a 32-26-22 percent lead over Chicago businessman Chris Kennedy, who had advertised heavily and featured footage in his promotional ads of his late father, US attorney general and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Chicago). Biss had shown surprising strength for a legislator without statewide name identification. But Pritzker won the party nomination with 45.4 percent of the vote, a much larger total than the polling had predicted.
The numbers, even those released from the Pritzker campaign over the preceding weeks, all had shown similar ranges. Pritzker led, according to all data, but if he had only one strong opponent, his nomination was considered to be in jeopardy.
A Rauner-Pritzker general election, an impending contest between billionaires not shy about spending their own money to achieve their political goals, could become the most expensive political statewide campaign in American history. It is likely that combined spending will exceed $300 million when everything is tallied up.
The big congressional primary race — and by far the tightest — was in the southwestern Chicago suburbs. There, seven-term veteran Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Western Springs) fought for re-nomination against media consultant Marie Newman, who enjoyed support from national liberal organizations. Lipinski is a Chicago machine Democrat who is one of the few remaining moderates in the Democratic caucus, particularly on social issues such as abortion and key business issues. Polling showed a close race, but primaries are often difficult to predict. As always, voter turnout was the determining factor. Seven-term Rep. Lipinski appears to have eeked out a 50.9 – 49.1% win with 17 Cook County precincts still not reporting full totals as of this writing.
Another campaign of note was the open Democratic primary for state attorney general. With four-term incumbent Lisa Madigan (D) not seeking re-election, a major primary campaign had developed. Former Gov. Pat Quinn (D), burdened with low approval numbers in 2014, was unseated in his quest for a second full term and returned in a political comeback attempt. Aside from serving as governor, Quinn was previously elected lieutenant governor and state treasurer. Late polling suggested that the tainted former governor had pulled into a slight lead over state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago). Six other Democrats, including several state and local officials, also were campaigning for the position. But it was Raoul who won the election by a slight margin; With 94 percent of the precincts reporting, Raoul, who succeeded Barack Obama in the Illinois state Senate, captured 30 percent of the statewide vote. Quinn was able to collect only 28 percent of the vote among the large field of candidates.
In the open 4th Congressional District, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who appeared to have an easy road toward winning the Democratic primary and who appeared assured of replacing retiring US Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago), earned 67 percent of the vote compared to 21 percent for Sol Flores, a nonprofit executive who finished a distant second. Richard Gonzalez, a Chicago police sergeant, was even further back in third place, with 12 percent, according to the unofficial results with 95 percent of the precincts reporting.
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Wheaton), who looked to be in for a highly competitive general election campaign, still is waiting to learn the identity of his future opponent. Seven Democrats, only one of whom had ever won any office, fought for the party nomination in a plurality contest. Kelly Mazeski, a planning commissioner, led clean energy executive Sean Casten by fewer than 300 votes with more than 85 percent of the vote counted so far in the Democratic primary.
In all, seven of the 17 congressional incumbents seeking re-election had primary opposition, but with Rep. Lipinski facing the only serious contest.