ANNA, Ill. — On a blustery April day in Illinois, Republican Darren Bailey gathered around 50 supporters and vowed to them that he would represent the forgotten people of Illinois as the next governor.
“We’re going to take Illinois by storm,” Bailey said. “It’s the popular movement. These are people who have never been involved in the political climate system.
The crowd included retirees, state employees, volunteers and Andrea Hutcheson, a single mother of six from Anna — a town of about 4,500 in Deep South Illinois. Bailey’s campaign stop was the parking lot of a martial arts studio, just four miles from the site of one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858.
“I think there’s a whole movement that’s a patriotic movement,” Hutcheson, 41, said. “You have your Republicans. You have your Democrats, or your right wing and your left wing, but I think there’s a patriotic movement going on that I think goes deeper than just the Republican Party. And I think Darren is one of them.
Bailey, a 56-year-old state senator from Xenia, is building on that move — the same one that pushed former state Rep. Jeanne Ives to within about 3% of the points beating the former Republican governor. outgoing Bruce Rauner in the 2018 primary.
A farmer with a distinctly Southern accent, Bailey called himself the only true conservative in a crowded primary field of GOP candidates, which includes Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan, businessman Gary Rabine, State Senator Paul Schimpf and attorney Hazel Crest. Max Solomon.
The Democratic Governors Association, which has previously aired a TV ad targeting Irvin, calls Bailey the “far-right” candidate.
Bailey is a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump. He is anti-abortion and has been a vocal critic of same-sex marriage, citing his Christian faith. He and his wife, Cindy, founded a pre-K-12 school in downstate Louisville that provides a “Christ-centered education.”
He also pledged to defend the Second Amendment, having voted against several gun control bills. He thinks there should be a mandatory erasure of voter rolls every year and digital tracking of ballots, which he saw as a Democratic election integrity issue.
He says he’s a freedom fighter who will fight for the Constitution — and has become a leader in a movement against Democratic Governor JB Pritzker’s COVID-19 executive orders and mandates.
Bailey’s campaign staff is minimal, and he communicates with his supporters through his Twitter and Facebook pages. According to an April 18 campaign filing, Bailey declared $1,039,054.16 in cash. A day later, Lake Forest mega-donor Richard Uihlein donated another $2.5 million.
Yet the cash flow is less than Irvin’s seemingly limitless campaign coffers from billionaire backer Ken Griffin, who has already donated $20 million to Irvin. Irvin had about half that on March 31, but Griffin should give him more if needed.
But while Bailey might be a little short of Irvin’s bankroll, he’s trying to make up for it with bravado.
On his personal voicemail, Bailey identifies himself as the “next governor of Illinois”. And signs at his campaign stops invite voters to meet “Governor-elect Darren Bailey” – a title at best in two elections.
The election “will send shock waves”
Despite some of Bailey’s more divisive stances, the Southern Illinois Republican’s goal is to reach voters who feel they don’t quite fit into the ordered framework of traditional political parties — a talk of campaign similar to that of Trump. Where Bailey lives, 81.7% of Clay County voters voted for Trump in 2020.
“These are people who have not been involved. The Republican establishment and Democrats have no idea some of these people exist and what they think.
“They have no idea these people are fed up because these people don’t usually go to your Republican or Democrat meetings. They are real working people, and they have found hope and support our mission,” Bailey told the Sun-Times.
“I think what we’re doing here in Illinois, not just June 28, but the first Tuesday in November, is going to send shock waves far beyond what the state of Virginia is doing.”
And it looks like Bailey’s statewide campaign is gaining momentum, at least judging by the pile of mailers and attack ads coming out of Irvin, which the campaign has watched. all of Bailey’s public moves with paid trackers. Bailey told the Sun-Times he also receives these shippers at his home.
“Yes, it’s embarrassing. But that’s what they want,” Bailey said, saying Irvin is trying to keep him on defense. “They want to hijack me.”
In stump speeches in Republican-friendly towns Anna, Metropolis and Marion on April 18, Bailey defended himself against what he called “lies” and “nonsense” in television ads at the statewide. Calling his supporters “great patriots” — borrowing another tactic from Trump — Bailey also portrayed himself as a rallying point for those in the state who believe in what he believes in — “conservative, common sense solutions.”
He tells his supporters he’s “drastically ahead in the polls” and says he thinks it’s “great” that Pritzker would rather face him than Irvin in the November election.
While the campaigns conduct polls internally, no independent investigation has been made public. Bailey told the Sun-Times he was referring to early surveys showing him around 30% support.
And with Irvin likely to garner some support in suburban Chicago, Bailey is hoping to sneak into Trump’s strength – who garnered 2,446,891 votes in Illinois in 2020.
He is also actively seeking the former president’s endorsement, having met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago in December. If Trump came to Illinois to support U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill, whom the former president has already endorsed in the new 15th congressional district, Bailey’s campaign momentum would pick up quickly. And a Trump endorsement for Bailey could potentially hurt Irvin’s numbers.
“I would honor that,” Bailey said of hosting a Trump rally. “I was able to meet him in December. So that seed was planted.
“From brandon to anti-mandate leader”
Bailey won a House seat from Illinois in 2018 and two years later there was no Democratic opposition in the race to succeed incumbent GOP Senator Dale Righter.
In the House, Bailey was an arsonist, a vocal opponent of almost everything — and an annoyance to House Republicans who didn’t quite match his beliefs. He was part of a group of House GOP lawmakers dubbed the “Eastern Bloc,” who in 2019 called for Chicago to be separated from the rest of Illinois in what was a ceremonial resolution.
He called for Chicago to become the 51st state because “the majority of Southern Illinois residents disagree with City of Chicago residents on key issues such as gun ownership, abortion, immigration and other political issues”.
Calling it “an old resolution,” Bailey told the Sun-Times last year that his goal was not to drive Chicago out of Illinois, but to give a voice to those outside the city. , “are not happy and want to be heard”.
Bailey was a vocal opponent of Pritzker’s stay-at-home order and challenged the governor in a lawsuit filed in April 2020 in Clay County Circuit Court. He won, sort of. A judge ruled that Bailey was personally exempt from the executive order. From there, he held “Re-open Illinois” rallies across the state, defying Pritzker’s COVID mitigation measures.
In May 2020, at the height of the pandemic in Illinois, Bailey refused to wear a mask as lawmakers gathered in a makeshift special session at a Springfield convention center. He said then that he “represented the people” and captured national attention as Americans, stuck at home, glued to cable news channels watching the deadly pandemic unfold.
This fight continued. In February, Bailey gathered around 100 supporters at a Peoria bar to rally against mask mandates in schools across the city.
At a campaign event in Metropolis in front of the downstate city’s famous Superman statue, Bailey said his anti-incumbency movement inspired him to run for governor and that he wants be seen as the candidate who stood up for “freedom”.
“That’s my question. When you’re wondering who you’re going to support, who you’re going to find as governor, I just want you to consider, where has everyone else gone in the past two years? Bailey said.
“Where were they? Did they defend your freedom? Did they defend your children and your schools?