Abortion ruling expected to whip up Illinois' GOP base, help conservative governor hopefuls

For six long months, Republican candidates for governor have honed in on crime and taxes to sway voters in the Illinois primary Tuesday.

But Friday's bombshell U.S. Supreme Court decision throwing out Roe v. Wade has seized public attention and will for days. So - how will abortion rights play out in the gubernatorial stakes?

"I think this will help with turnout from socially conservative Republican voters in the primary," said Kent Redfield, emeritus professor of political studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

"It gives them a win and provides hope and something to fight for and a reason to participate."

But veteran Republican strategist Pat Durante disagreed, saying, "I don't see Roe making any difference in the primary at this late date, especially on the GOP side. It's an issue that motivates the female voter, but the large majority of the GOP women are pro-life."

Durante, an Addison resident and former top aide for congressman Henry Hyde, a staunch abortion opponent, added that if he were a campaign manager, "I wouldn't change my game plan four days before the primary."

The candidates are state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, McHenry County business owner Gary Rabine, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo, Hazel Crest attorney Max Solomon and venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan of Petersburg.

Irvin, favored by establishment Republicans, emerged as the front-runner early in 2022, but conservative Bailey has led recent polls with Sullivan also in contention.

However, Republican voters have provided surprises in Illinois primaries before, such as the 2010 come-from-behind victory by former Sen. Bill Brady to defeat favorite Jim Ryan, former attorney general.

All the candidates oppose abortion but Irvin, who supports the procedure in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother's life. Irvin was criticized by his rivals in debates as too moderate, which he rebuffed.

After the Supreme Court decision Friday, Christian conservative Sullivan released a statement that "the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is something we've prayed, fought and worked toward for decades. J.B. Pritzker and politicians in both parties have made Illinois the worst state in the nation for pro-life values. That ends when we elect a pro-life governor this November.

"This moment is too important to elect a professional politician we can't trust to stand tall for us," Sullivan said in a poke at his rivals.

Bailey directed his statement at Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritkzer, calling him an "abortion extremist" out of touch with Illinois residents.

"Today's Supreme Court decision is a historic and welcomed moment. As governor, I will work to remove taxpayer-funded abortion and restore parental notification in Illinois," Bailey promised.

Meanwhile, Irvin stated that "as a pro-life Republican, I will continue to fight for every parent's right to know if a minor child is having an abortion - a right J.B. Pritzker has outrageously taken away. With Democratic majorities in the Illinois General Assembly, this Supreme Court ruling will have no effect on the law in our state."

The Roe decision puts abortion rights in the hands of states and gives Republican base voters momentum, Redfield said.

"If they can flip the state, then they can act to totally ban abortion. As opposed to looking at Roe and Democratic control and saying, 'Even if we flip the state, we can only go as far as the latest allowable restrictions under Roe.'"

Regarding reactions to the ruling, "Irvin's focus on notification and the downplaying of the issue stands in contrast to the positions taken by Bailey and Sullivan praising the decision and promising to change the law in Illinois," Redfield said. "Irvin is still trying to position himself for the general election.

"Bailey and Sullivan are saying what the Republican primary electorate wants to hear. Irvin is not."

Traditionally, Illinois is a solid blue state, but incumbent Pritzker is taking no chances and has made the ruling a rallying cry for his fellow Democrats.

The governor called for a special session of the General Assembly to fortify abortion protections and warned: "This is not a drill" in a video posted on Twitter Saturday.

"The day Republicans have been waiting for for almost 50 years just happened. Your right to choose is still protected in Illinois, and we will fight like hell to ensure that access to abortion remains safe and legal," Pritzker said. "But make no mistake: A Republican governor would roll back the clock on reproductive freedoms. In fact, every Republican candidate has sworn that if they win, they will immediately begin revoking your access to essential reproductive health care. We need you to join our fight to protect our rights."

Redfield said "this issue definitely helps the Democrats in energizing their base in Illinois. Since their base is bigger than the Republican's base, they don't need to be more energized, just as energized."

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other officials address the Roe v. Wade announcement Friday. Courtesy of the state of Illinois
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