Democrats in Illinois Just Helped a Republican Win His Primary - Rolling Stone
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Democrats Just Helped a Republican Candidate Win His Primary Because They’re Sure They Can Beat Him. Sound Familiar?

In Illinois, Democratic governor J.B. Pritzker ran ads elevating Darren Bailey, a Republican they’re betting is too extreme to win a general election

Democrats Just Helped a Republican Candidate Win His Primary Because They’re Sure They Can Beat Him. Sound Familiar?Democrats Just Helped a Republican Candidate Win His Primary Because They’re Sure They Can Beat Him. Sound Familiar?

Republican gubernatorial candidate Illinois state Sen. Darren Bailey gestures to the crowd after winning the Republican primary Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Effingham, Ill.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

It was May 4, 2016, and for a certain set of Washington Democrats and their affiliated intelligentsia, it was a day of smug glee. John Kasich had dropped out of the Republican presidential primary, Ted Cruz had bowed out the night before, and the D.C. intelligentsia knew two things for sure: Donald Trump would be the 2016 GOP nominee, and, because Trump was an extreme and unelectable Republican, Hillary Clinton would be the next president.

They went one-for-two, and the country has been on fire ever since.

Six years later, Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker took a good hard look at the lessons of 2016 and apparently decided, “Let’s give that another try!”

On Tuesday night, Pritzker found out he’ll be running for reelection in November against Darren Bailey, an extreme right-wing Republican. Pritzker was so confident he could beat Bailey that the Democrat and his Democratic Governors Association allies actively intervened in the Republican primary in an attempt to help Bailey win.

Democrats ran ads attacking Bailey, a right-wing Republican and Trump acolyte, labeling him “too conservative” for Illinois. But, calling someone “too conservative” in a GOP primary is like calling a sprinter “too fast” or a model “too handsome.” Team Pritzker knows that — and, ostensibly, the real purpose of the smear campaign was to help Bailey beat his more moderate rivals.

It worked. Bailey romped in the primary, with a vote count that more than doubled those of his nearest rival — even with half of the votes tallied.

The consensus prediction is that Bailey can’t win in Illinois — a state where Biden beat Trump in 2020 by 17 percentage points. After all, the newly minted Republican nominee, according to a The New York Times report, is an extremist. He introduced himself to voters with a bill that aimed to kick Chicago out of Illinois, and he’s continually derided the city — the nation’s third-largest and the state’s economic engine — by calling it a “hellhole.” Chicago is also home to many of the state’s largest communities of color, and Bailey’s attacks aren’t so much racist dog whistles as they are bigoted bullhorns.

That’s just the beginning: Bailey also opposes abortion rights, including in cases of rape and incest. He’s dabbled in Trump-style election denial, declining to acknowledge that Biden won — and, as conventional wisdom goes, he’s generally a terrible candidate for a blue state.

If this conventional wisdom pervades, then Pritzker’s strategy will propel him to victory, effectively dodging a set of GOP challengers who, at least on paper, seemed a tougher match. That will probably happen, and the good people of Illinois will breathe a big sigh of relief if it does.

But, this is an extremely dangerous game. If the past 6 years have taught one thing, it’s that things can always get worse, if not worse in ways that are difficult to predict. And there’s plenty that could go wrong between now and November: Pritzker could get caught in a scandal or have a mishap; national politics could turn even more difficult for Democrats; or Bailey could prove an extremely talented general election campaigner. It sounds far-fetched — but so did the idea of a former reality TV host becoming President of the United States after opening his campaign with anti-Mexican racism and closing it by bragging about serial sexual assault on camera.

If the worst does come to pass, the people of Illinois — including vulnerable communities whom Bailey has made his rhetorical targets — will be governed by an extremist. And Pritzker and his allies will own a large share of the blame.

In This Article: 2022 election, Illinois

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