'We're Americans first': Bailey talks taxes, abortion and winning in a blue state

He woke up at 3 a.m. for a national media interview Thursday, but as a farmer he's used to predawn hours, Republican nominee for governor Darren Bailey tells the Daily Herald.

"It's been busy all day," the state senator said from his home in rural Xenia. "Doing the campaign stuff ... just making phone calls, congratulations, solicitations, and every 20 minutes I take a break for an interview. But anytime you get an opportunity to get your message out, it's a good thing."

Bailey, a proud Christian conservative, blew up conventional wisdom Tuesday, winning the Illinois primary and besting GOP establishment candidate Richard Irvin, Aurora's mayor.

He faces a tough opponent, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, in the Nov. 8 election in a solidly blue state that typically picks moderates when it opts for Republican governors.

But Bailey is optimistic about his chances, citing a lawsuit he filed in 2020 against Pritzker's COVID-19 mitigations, such as face masks, as the start of a movement.

"We had a message of hope that 'I don't think this is how we're supposed to be living our lives as Americans,'" Bailey said. "I am one of the people. I work for a living. We raised a family; we're raising grandchildren now. I face the same problems with gas and energy and food prices as everyone else."

Weeks of barnstorming Chicago, the suburbs and the rest of the state during the lengthy campaign paid off, too, Bailey said. "We showed up. We worked and we continue to show up."

On most issues, the two candidates are polar opposites. Pritzker excoriated the Supreme Court's striking down the Roe v. Wade decision and promised Illinois will be a haven state for women who need abortions.

Bailey opposes abortion including in cases of rape or incest. However, "I have no problem when it comes to the point of saving the life of the mother ... I don't consider that an abortion."

Bailey would seek to end taxpayer funding of abortion and try to repeal a new law that ended required parental notification when minors get abortions.

But he supports the idea of making "abortion unnecessary. Let's empower churches and civic groups and religious organizations to offer real help and hope to pregnant women."

That could include paid leave of absences or easing the adoption process in Illinois.

Democrats have warned the Supreme Court will next act to reduce access to contraceptives or restrict same-sex marriages.

"I believe in biblical marriage between a man and a woman," Bailey said. But in Illinois, "currently with same-sex marriage, it's the law. Illinois decided to make it a law, I understand the reasons. I will not be seeking to mess with that; we have bigger problems to deal with."

Reacting to the recent inflation crisis, Pritzker on Thursday heralded a plan - included in the state budget that lawmakers passed in the spring and that takes effect Friday - to suspend the state's 1% sales tax on groceries through June 30, 2023, and delay an increase in the gas tax through January 2023.

"In challenging times like these, it's more important than ever to have a government whose first focus is on working families and those who are struggling," Pritzker said at an event.

Bailey countered that the relief amounted to a 2-cent break in gas.

"This is an insult to the people of Illinois," he said. "And a lot of people don't realize when this (2019) gas tax was passed it had an automatic increase to be adjusted to inflation. There never should be such a thing as an automatic increase."

Also, "why not just make the 1% (grocery) tax go away?" Bailey asked.

Bailey's solution: "Let's cut the sales tax in half even for a time, and that would give absolute immediate relief."

The senator has faced heat for calling Chicago a "hellhole," and when asked how he could connect to liberal voters who differ from his beliefs, Bailey said, "We're Americans first."

"We've been working our tails off getting out and immersing ourselves in the amazing culture of Chicago," he said. "As a state senator, I helped hundreds of people get their vaccines. I literally gave away thousands of masks, gallons of hand sanitizer earlier. I'm not anti-mask and I'm not anti-vaccine; I'm pro-freedom."

Meanwhile, as he looked out his window and described a thriving cornfield, Bailey had a tip for suburbanites.

"Getting your hands dirty in the soil, getting the gloves off ... gardening is probably one of the most healthy things for people," he said.

Asked if Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, who donated $50 million to Irvin's campaign, was in the cornfield with his checkbook, Bailey said, "I'll be waiting for him when he shows up."

Meanwhile, at an interview Wednesday, Pritkzer, who garnered 755,893 votes to Bailey's 453,741 in their separate primaries, said "people on the Democratic side are motivated. They understand their rights are being taken away, that Donald Trump (who endorsed Bailey) is trying to take over the state and they're fighting against it.

"We're going to see even more people coming out to vote in the general election, because that is not who Illinois is. We are not an anti-choice state. We are not a pro-Trump state."

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State Sen. Darren Bailey addresses the crowd after winning the Republican primary Tuesday in the governor's race. Associated Press
Gov. J.B. Pritzker greets a voter on Election Day at a stop in Manny's Deli in Chicago. Associated Press
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