Illinois Primary: Nominations for governor, congressional seats at stake Tuesday

Illinois' great experiment with a June primary wraps up Tuesday when voters speak after six months of campaigning instead of the accustomed three.

With a Republican gubernatorial free-for-all, an unprecedented Democratic runoff in the 6th Congressional District, and a bipartisan gloves-off smackdown among secretary of state hopefuls, it's been a bruising 2022.

"Most of us are ready for the long primary season to end to get our televisions and our mailboxes back," former Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Kirk Dillard said.

Political analyst Bill Morris of Grayslake noticed a more than 70% drop in early voters when he went to the polls recently.

"That tells me turnout's down," said Morris, a former state senator. "I think the longer campaign has let it get nastier and nastier."

Traditionally, Illinois primaries are in March.

The 2022 Republican candidates for Illinois governor appeared on an ABC 7 Chicago debate June 2: Darren Bailey, Richard Irvin, Gary Rabine, Paul Schimpf, Max Solomon, Jesse Sullivan.

At the top of the ticket is the volatile Republican race for governor. Contenders 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 emerged as an early Republican establishment favorite with a compelling life story and garnered $50 million from hedge fund Citadel founder Ken Griffin.

But questions about his conservative credentials that Irvin dismissed as false dogged his run. Griffin just announced he's moving Citadel to Florida.

Bailey, a proud anti-masker amid the COVID-19 pandemic, was tagged as too extreme, particularly in ads from the Democratic Governors Association. Experts, however, say the ads propelled Bailey's quest for a general election matchup with Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker, which the DGA intended. And an endorsement from former President Donald Trump at a downstate rally Saturday was a seismic moment for the senator's campaign.

But "Republican primary voters are extremely hard to tie down in a gubernatorial election," said Dillard. He pointed to the 2010 GOP primary when former Illinois Sen. Bill Brady came from behind to beat former Attorney General Jim Ryan, and a close finish for Rauner in 2014.

Adding to the mix is the bombshell U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion rights that threw out Roe v. Wade on Friday.

Politicos anticipate the decision will whip up Democrats over reproductive rights, as well as the Republican base.

Meanwhile, both Democrats and Republicans are beating each other up in the runoff to fill the job of popular incumbent Secretary of State Jesse White, who is retiring.

The Democrats running are former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Alderman David Moore and City Clerk Anna Valencia, all from Chicago.

Valencia has dredged up losses in the state's college fund run by the treasurer's office in the late 2000s that Giannoulias ties to the recession. For his part, Giannoulias has pointed to recent conflict of interest questions about contracts involving Valencia's husband, which she denies.

The Republicans are state Rep. Dan Brady of Bloomington and John Milhiser of Springfield, a former federal prosecutor. The pair have debated each other's qualifications.

Sean Casten and Marie Newman are Democratic candidates in Illinois' 6th Congressional District.

Congressional dog fights

Another race to watch is the 6th Congressional District - one of the few in the nation that pits two Democratic incumbents against each other. U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove has served the 6th since 2019; U.S. Rep. Marie Newman of La Grange represents the 3rd District but decided to run in the 6th after boundary lines were redrawn last year.

Casten and Newman are aligned on many issues important to Democrats, including abortion, LGBTQ rights and gun control - they're both for all three.

But Newman has taken swipes in ads at Casten for voting for George H.W. Bush in 1992 when Casten was 20.

Team Casten threw a bit of mud, too, highlighting that Newman, according to a lawsuit, is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for promising a staff job to a possible 3rd District challenger in 2020 if he wouldn't run. Newman has denied any improprieties.

But all politicking ceased immediately on June 13, when Casten's 17-year-old daughter, Gwen, was found dead in their home. Her death is under investigation, with officials saying they wanted to give the family time to grieve.

The Casten campaign pulled all advertising and Newman stopped ads comparing the two candidates.

Across the aisle in the 6th, six candidates are running for the Republican nomination: Niki Conforti of Glen Ellyn, Rob Cruz of Oak Lawn, Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso, Scott Kaspar of Orland Park, Catherine A. O'Shea of Oak Lawn and Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau.

The Republican primary in the 14th District has been boisterous, too, with many of the five candidates vying to prove their conservative chops.

Several have criticized the U.S. House committee investigating last year's deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol, including former radio host Mike Koolidge of Rochelle who called it "a waste of time."

Meanwhile, candidate James Marter of Oswego touted an endorsement from downstate U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, who apologized after quoting Adolf Hitler in a 2021 speech and voted against certifying Democrat Joe Biden as president. Marter has insisted Biden holds the Oval Office only through election fraud, which is untrue.

Contender Jack Lombardi of Manhattan trumpeted support from U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, who has spoken at white nationalist conferences and also voted not to certify Biden's election. Lombardi also drew controversy in March after calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a "corrupt thug" in a tweet a few weeks after the Russian invasion. Lombardi blamed the tweet on a staffer he later fired.

The only woman in the race, Jaime Milton of Fox River Grove, initially enjoyed the backing of a conservative political group that insisted the U.S. was "a Christian nation" and called for strict limits on divorce, among other unusual stances. Milton distanced herself from the group after media inquiries.

Kendall County Board Chair Scott Gryder of Oswego is running, too.

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