One month after staging a primary upset, Republican Darren Bailey is struggling to reel in supporters of a top Republican primary rival and has yet to log a six- or seven-figure campaign contribution in his fall fight against billionaire Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
Compounding Bailey’s troubles, hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin, who put $50 million into the failed candidacy of Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, doesn’t intend to write any checks to the downstate Republican state senator in his battle to unseat the Democratic governor.
“Ken will not be backing Darren Bailey,” Griffin spokesman Zia Ahmed told WBEZ. “He believes Richard Irvin was the best candidate for governor of Illinois.”
A WBEZ/Chicago Sun-Times analysis of 65 Republicans across the state who were early endorsers of Irvin’s campaign found at least some on that list appeared to share the sentiment. Some signs point to the possibility Irvin himself will endorse Bailey soon.
But only a handful from the vote-rich collar counties were willing to proclaim their support for Bailey publicly. Other past Irvin supporters spoke to WBEZ only on the condition that neither their names be used nor their disparaging comments about Bailey’s candidacy be published or aired.
Still, the senator’s campaign said there is no enduring GOP rift that threatens his candidacy and he is seeing Republicans coalesce around his efforts to defeat Pritzker.
“Darren Bailey won an upset victory on the primary fueled on a message of fixing our state, including safer streets and a stronger economy for all. We’re very confident that we’re going to win again in November against Pritzker,” Bailey campaign spokesman Joe DeBose said.
But four months ahead of the November election, the below-the-surface grumbling and, more significantly, the lack of money represent ominous signs for Bailey, particularly given he hasn’t been able to get any of his own advertising on Chicago television since the primary. Pritzker, during that time, has been busily portraying his opponent in TV ads as an “extremist” on abortion and gun control.
What is certain is that Irvin had many of the state’s best-known and most influential Republicans in his corner, including Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin and Chicago businessman Ron Gidwitz, who contributed more than $110,000 to Irvin.
“Quite frankly, I’ve never met Sen. Bailey, so that’s an issue. I generally don’t support people I don’t know,” said Gidwitz, finance chair of Donald Trump’s 2020 Illinois presidential campaign and the former Trump-appointed ambassador to Belgium.
Gidwitz was an honorary co-chair of Irvin’s campaign and has deep connections to Republican donors besides being one himself. He’s the finance director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is working to restore U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell as the Senate majority leader this fall.
“J.B. Pritzker, before the race really got started, put $125 million in his campaign fund. And so he intends to, if necessary, spend all of that money. And therefore the question is to me, what is Sen. Bailey going to do? And how is he going to raise that money?” Gidwitz said.
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