Illinois governor race more fierce, costly as primary nears

CHICAGO (AP) - The candidates for Illinois governor are making their final push ahead of Tuesday's primary, greeting voters and sinking more money into what's become an increasingly fierce - and expensive - contest.

Billionaire J.B. Pritzker, one of six Democrats fighting for the chance to unseat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in the Democratic-leaning state, filed paperwork late Friday showing he gave his campaign an additional $6.3 million. That brings his total investment to almost $70 million - a state record and millions more than President Donald Trump spent to win the GOP presidential primary.

Democrat Chris Kennedy, son of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, also reported giving his campaign another $500,000, for a total of about $2 million.

The spending from both candidates prompted Democratic state Sen. Daniel Biss, a former math teacher who's accused his rivals of trying to buy the election, to declare it had reached "new levels of absurdity."

Pritzker said he was excited about the chance to get his message out.

Rauner, considered one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents running this year, faces his own primary challenge. State Rep. Jeanne Ives decided to take him on after Rauner, who was elected in 2014 with a pledge that he had no "social agenda," angered conservatives with his actions on abortion, immigration and other issues.

Rauner and the Democratic candidates marched in Saturday's St. Patrick's Day parade in downtown Chicago, an annual tradition that draws thousands of spectators as well as candidates and politicians. Ives opted for a parade in Palatine, a more GOP-friendly suburb.

Rauner has argued he's best positioned to defeat Pritzker, the heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune who's led in polling throughout the race and has backing from many in the Democratic establishment.

Rauner spent just over $65 million on his 2014 election, when he was one of several Republicans who won governor's races in Democratic-leaning states and set the previous record for spending by an Illinois governor candidate. He has put more than $50 million into his campaign fund since then, some of which has paid for ads blasting Pritzker.

"I'm the one person who can win," Rauner told a southern Illinois radio station this week, saying he's "excited" to take on Pritzker. "We are going to blow him up and take him down."

The Democratic Governors Association also has gotten involved in the GOP primary, launching two ads this week. One rips Rauner over a more than two-year state budget stalemate - the result of disagreements between the governor and the Democratic-controlled Legislature - that led to billions in unpaid bills and the lowest credit rating of any U.S. state.

Another ad calls Ives one of the most conservative lawmakers in the state, saying she wants to ban abortion and has an "A'' rating from the National Rifle Association. While the ad has the ominous music and narrator voice usually associated with a negative ad, its contents could actually help Ives in a GOP primary.

Rauner's campaign said the DGA should be required to file a campaign finance report disclosing the ad as a type of donation to Ives.

"Washington Democrats know that Governor Rauner will be tough to beat in November," communications director Will Allison said. "That's why they've decided to overtly attempt to influence the outcome of the Republican primary in favor of a candidate who is simply unelectable in Illinois."

Ives said she's honored by attacks from the left, whether from the DGA or "the Leftist, fake Republican Bruce Rauner."

Three other Democrats are seeking the nomination: educator Bob Daiber, activist Tio Hardiman and physician Robert Marshall.

FILE - In this Jan. 17, 2018 file photo, Illinois Democratic gubernatorial candidates, from left, Robert Marshall, Bob Daiber, J.B. Pritzker, Daniel Biss, Chris Kennedy and Tio Hardiman participated in a forum with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board in Chicago. The six Democrats and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who faces challenger state Rep. Jeanne Ives, are making their final pitches to voters this weekend before the Illinois primary on Tuesday, march 20, 2018. The winners in each party will face off in November. (Rich Hein/Sun Times via AP File) The Associated Press
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