Skeptical of polls, GOP governor hopefuls see an open race ahead of Illinois primary


AP Photo/John O'Connor

Republican candidate for Illinois governor Darren Bailey speaks to voters during a campaign stop in Athens, Ill., June 14, 2022. Bailey is seeking the Republican nomination to face Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker in November.

Just days from Illinois’ June 28 primary election, six Republicans are still fiercely competing to face Democratic incumbent Gov. J.B. Pritzker this November.

Recent polling from the Chicago Sun-Times/WBEZ indicates that it’s largely a two-man race. State senator Darren Bailey is polling at 32%, followed by Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin at 17%. Of the 677 likely voters polled, 27% were undecided.

But several candidates, like former state senator Paul Schimpf, insist that the race is still wide open.

“Recent polling has been just absolutely atrocious,” Schimpf told The DePaulia. “The polling was awful in the 2020 presidential election. Our support is very localized… We have really been focusing our resources on certain counties. That means if you have polling that is trying to cover the entire state, it’s really not going to accurately pick up our support.”

Schimpf polled at just 4% on the Chicago Sun-Times/WBEZ poll in early June, despite his endorsement from the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board; however, he remains optimistic of his campaign’s chances.

“This is going to be a low turnout election,” Schimpf said. “There are still a lot of undecided voters.”

Schimpf isn’t the only candidate unconvinced of this recent statewide poll. Fellow gubernatorial hopeful Max Solomon, who got his bachelor’s degree at DePaul University, isn’t deterred by his 2% polled support.

“I’ve never really been a believer in polls, especially for primaries,” Solomon said.

Solomon, too, is encouraged by the potential for undecided voters to swing in his direction.

“The fact that they’re undecided means that they haven’t heard from me,” he said. “We believe strongly that if our message gets out to those undecideds, then they’re going to break our way.”

For the two apparent frontrunners, Bailey’s lead over Irvin represents a deviance from the moderate conservatism that Irvin represents. Bailey’s platform is consistently further to the right than Irvin’s — he proudly voiced his support for Donald Trump, and celebrated the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade on Friday.

On the other hand, Irvin has notoriously dodged questions about whether or not he voted for Trump in the 2020 presidential election, and has been murky on his stance regarding abortion rights since his campaign began.

Solomon believes that Irvin’s lack of clarity on these issues has damaged the Aurora mayor’s support among the state’s GOP.

“When you deal with conservatives in the Republican Party of Illinois, you have to be [transparent] with those things,” Solomon said. “And I think that’s what’s hurting him. And I think it’s going to hurt him throughout the rest of the week into the primary.”

Irvin’s reluctance to take more conservative stances may be hurting him in primary polling. His biggest benefactor, Chicago hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, announced Thursday that he would be moving his Citadel hedge fund to Florida. It may be a sign that confidence is waning for Irvin’s campaign, which has been attacked by the right for being too liberal.

But in the general election, where Chicago voters become increasingly impactful, moderatism could be a viable strategy.

“Chicago is a very moderate Republican city,” said Jeff Fiedler, executive director of the Chicago Republican Party. “It’s not as hardcore conservative as outside of the collar counties.”

Historically, a Republican nominee must obtain one-fifth of the votes in Chicago to win any statewide election in Illinois.

“Whoever the Republican candidate is, they have to get one out of five people in Chicago to vote for them,” Fiedler said. “You have to get at least 20% of the vote coming out of the city, not even [Cook] county, coming out of the city, to win a statewide election.”

It will be a tall task for the GOP. Illinois is considered a Democratic stronghold; Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by 17 points in 2020. Pritzker has a comfortable lead against all potential Republican challengers, according to polling from earlier this year.

Because of this, Schimpf stressed that unity among state Republicans is of the utmost importance. He committed to supporting the GOP candidate in the general election this November, no matter who it may be.

“If you’re against J.B. Pritzker, you are on my team,” Schimpf said. “I’m going to support the Republican nominee. We have to learn from history. We cannot win statewide in Illinois unless we have a unified Republican party.”

Solomon has his own stipulation.

“If it’s Irvin, I’m not going to be supporting him,” he said. “If Irvin takes the nomination, I’m not going to campaign for him. I’m not going to openly support him… When I go to vote in November, I’m going to write in my name.”

Nonetheless, Solomon is confident that whoever emerges victorious in the Republican primary will defeat Pritzker in the general.

“The people of Illinois are tired of J.B. Pritzker,” he said. “And they’re going to vote for whoever the Republican Party nominee is because it’s time we lead the state in a different direction.”

The Illinois statewide primary election takes place on June 28. Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.