As race for Republican gubernatorial nominee begins in earnest, will endorsements matter?

A new cast of characters has entered the gubernatorial race as filing for the Illinois primary ended Monday with six Republican tickets vying for Gov. J.B. Pritzker's job.

But influential players from the 2018 GOP primary are also looming large, particularly in the campaigns of Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin and downstate Sen. Darren Bailey. Along with newcomer Jesse Sullivan of rural Petersburg, the three have the largest war chests of the pack so far.

Conservative Bailey recently secured a key endorsement from former Wheaton state Rep. Jeanne Ives, who so fired up the GOP base four years ago that she almost stole the primary from then-Gov. Bruce Rauner.

"He's the only one who stood up to Pritzker," Ives said of Bailey.

Irvin is being compared to Rauner as a moderate who can win a general election in a blue state. The attorney has already racked up endorsements from party establishment figures and wealthy Republicans, including Citadel CEO Ken Griffin.

"Compared to the Aurora of my childhood, (Irvin's) turned that place around," said former Republican state Rep. Grant Wehrli of Naperville.

Sullivan, CEO of a California-based venture capital firm, is casting himself and running mate Kathleen Murphy, a Warrenville political strategist, as the non-establishment candidates. The ticket filed Monday, the last of the contenders, although the process opened March 7.

"This campaign has never been about the insiders. It has never been about the political elite. It is about a next generation of leaders across our great state," Sullivan said in a statement.

Also hard on the gubernatorial campaign trail are former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo and McHenry County businessman Gary Rabine.

"I do like where we're at," said Schimpf, whose running mate is McHenry County Board member Carolyn Schofield. "We're offering something none of the others have - positive policy solutions rather than just outrage and anger."

Palatine Township Road Commissioner Aaron Del Mar, Rabine's lieutenant governor pick, took direct aim at Democrat Pritzker.

"Our message of reform and rebuild is resonating as overwhelmingly Illinoisans want a change from the corrupt and incompetent Chicago machine Democrats that have ruined our state," he said.

New to the June 28 primary battle are governor and lieutenant governor hopefuls Emily Johnson of Wheaton and Brett Mahlon of Orland Park. Both belong to We Are The People Illinois!, a group of residents investigating "fraud in the 2020 election," their website said.

State election officials across the U.S. have confirmed that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and there was not widespread voter fraud.

"We need to make decency and common sense great again," Johnson said in a website statement, adding she is a "bold, hardworking American woman" and supports former President Donald Trump.

Ives, meanwhile, explained her support for Bailey, saying that unlike most of his rivals, the Xenia senator understands state government and how it interplays with local and federal branches.

Bailey "knows how to have policies that work better for overall economic prosperity," she said. "He understands where we need to go. And, the last thing we need is somebody completely unfamiliar with how that all works to take over and lead Illinois if we're going to actually change things in terms of fiscal policy."

Bailey, whose running mate is Stephanie Trussell of Lisle, gained fame in 2020 for his opposition to face masks and litigation against COVID-19 mitigations.

"I give him a lot of credit for that, because he took a lot of heat from a lot of people and he just prevailed," Ives said. "I reward courage, and he obviously had the courage."

Irvin has teamed with state Rep. Avery Bourne of Morrisonville on the ticket. Although some rivals have questioned Irvin's GOP credentials, Wehrli dismissed such criticisms.

Irvin "took on a Madigan-backed candidate, state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, for mayor and won," Wehrli said. President Barack "Obama went there to campaign against him. Sen. Dick Durbin went there to campaign against him. I don't know what other street cred you need in the Republican world."

Wehrli thought Ives' endorsement of Bailey "solidifies some people that were already going to vote for Bailey. But it hurts Bailey in the sense that the moderate, independent suburban voter, particularly female, is now going to shy away."

State Sen. Don DeWitte of St. Charles has not endorsed a nominee yet but noted that "as a Republican, I tend to look down the road a bit to see which one of these candidates has the fire power to take out J.B. Pritzker. That list of who might be able to do that is a very short list of probably two."

Based on financial resources, DeWitte shortlisted Irvin and Bailey with possibly "Jesse Sullivan as a sleeper."

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