Illinois primary: GOP governor is projected to narrowly defeat conservative challenger in Republican primary
This story will be updated.
The Republican governor of Illinois and a seven-term Democratic congressman held narrow leads Tuesday night in primaries that tested the strength of the political establishment to beat back ideological insurgents.
Live Illinois primary election resultsFirst-term Gov. Bruce Rauner was locked in a tough battle for his party’s nomination after the early vote showed his conservative challenger, state Rep. Jeanne Ives, delivering surprisingly strong results in suburban areas. Meanwhile, moderate Rep. Daniel Lipinski sought to fend off the toughest challenge of his career from Marie Newman, an activist backed by liberal groups and several of Lipinski’s House Democratic colleagues.
Candidates in both races were still waiting for results at 9 p.m. Central Time, two hours after polls closed. The Democratic gubernatorial primary wrapped up quickly, with the Associated Press projecting billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker would win the contest.
The primaries for governor and Lipinski’s House seat pit candidates willing to compromise against those who insist on defiance and ideological purity, reflecting broader fights playing out in Washington and across the country.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who won his seat by defeating an incumbent Democrat in a 2016 runoff, said that the days were long gone when incumbents could expect to go unchallenged.
“I think any incumbent should be prepared, in this moment, for competition,” Khanna said. Whether Lipinski wins Tuesday or not, “this shows that someone can get into a race quickly, raise money quickly, they can mobilize people quickly, and they can take advantage of how the value of incumbency has diminished.”
Some data suggested that enthusiasm among Democrats was much higher than among Republicans, a less-than-ideal outcome for Rauner.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker hopes to secure his party’s nomination Tuesday. He faces Chris Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy, and state Sen. Dan Biss. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)Democratic early votes outnumbered Republican early votes by nearly three to one, the Illinois State Board of Elections said Tuesday. Some jurisdictions were still entering numbers from Monday, but the lopsided numbers raised questions about whether Rauner would muster adequate support.
[Conservative Democrat feels the ire of his liberal base]
The Republican gubernatorial primary could be a significant turning point for Rauner, an unpopular political newcomer who faces criticism for the tumult that has dominated his first term. Rauner kept a low profile through the weekend while Ives maintained an active campaign schedule.
The former private-equity executive provoked the conservative right in September when he signed a bill expanding abortion coverage for women on Medicaid. He also engaged in a long budget standoff with the state legislature that left Illinois $15 billion behind on its bills and triggered multiple downgrades that almost pushed the state’s credit rating to junk status.
Conservative megadonor Richard Uihlein put $2.5 million behind Ives, a conservative legislator from the suburbs, and the Democratic Governors Association paid for an ad branding Ives “too conservative,” in what was seen as a ploy to boost her among Republicans.
In Rogers Park, a lakeside city neighborhood, Sylvester Gunther, 59, said he was happy that Rauner was being challenged from all sides. The two-year budget stalemate did irreparable damage to the state, particularly among the most vulnerable, who experienced social services cuts, Gunther said.
The Republican “created a crisis and wants someone to blame. It’s time for someone to do something different because it’s hurt a lot of people,” he said.
Edith Thorne, 75, agreed. She cast her vote for Pritzker.
Rauner has “not done any good for our state,” she said. “By not passing a budget he really put us behind the 8-ball.”
Pritzker and Rauner, both billionaire businessmen, spent $127 million combined on the campaign.
Rich Moskal, 59, a Democrat who voted for Biss, said was turned off by the amount of money Pritzker was spending on the race.
“Without question, it’s wealthy people wanting to be in positions of power,” Moskal said at a polling place in Lincoln Square, on Chicago’s North Side. “The spending is really unsettling. It upsets the balance of democracy.”
Pritzker, whom Democratic leaders saw early on as the strongest challenger to the wealthy Rauner, struggled after the Chicago Tribune released tapes of conversations between him and disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich from an FBI wiretap.
While the tapes did not implicate Pritzker in any crimes, they helped his opponents — Chris Kennedy, a member of the storied political family, and state Sen. Daniel Biss — earn second looks from voters. Polls had shown Pritzker only slightly ahead of the field after spending an average of $178,000 per day, mostly from his own pocket, on the race.
Another Biss voter, Stephanie Jalove, said Pritzker is “associated with corruption.”
[Once-safe GOP districts in play as Democrats expand map]
“The wealth that surrounds him taints him,” said Jalove, 37.
The race for the 3rd District, which includes parts of the southwest side of Chicago and western suburbs, has attracted considerable attention. Lipinski, who has held the seat since 2005, has warned that “the tea party of the left” wants to purge him, while Newman has criticized the incumbent as a relic of bygone conservative politics.
Lipinski, who was endorsed by Catholic Vote and the antiabortion Susan B. Anthony List, spent the final day of the campaign greeting commuters at a train station and talking to veterans at a VFW post. Republicans have all but written off his district: after no credible candidate filed to run, the only Republican candidate on the ballot is Art Jones, a neo-Nazi activist denounced by the party.
Newman, a first-time candidate who was the Illinois spokeswoman for the gun safety group Moms Demand Action, has argued that Lipinski is “out of step” with his district, which was drawn by Democrats to be safe for the incumbent. She received endorsements from NARAL Pro-Choice America, MoveOn, Emily’s List and two of Lipinski’s more liberal Illinois colleagues, Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D) and Luis V. Gutiérrez (D).
“I know what’s in his heart, and it’s called hate,” Newman told supporters at a canvassing event late last week. “This guy is dangerous. His views are dangerous.”
Rep. Marc Pocan (D-Wis.), the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said he endorsed Newman in part because of Lipinski’s votes for “religious freedom” bills seen by critics as making it easier for private businesses to discriminate against gay customers.
“There’s a lot of districts where I’m backing people who are a lot more conservative than I am, because that’s the way we’re going to take them back,” said Pocan. “But when you have a district that looks as blue as this one in Illinois, I’d prefer that it be represented by someone who wants my husband and I to have full civil rights.”
The winner of the Democratic primary is all but certain to serve in Congress. No incumbent Democrats in the House or Senate has lost a primary since 2014, when Massachusetts’s scandal-plagued Rep. John F. Tierney was defeated by Seth Moulton. No congressional Democrat has lost a primary seen as an ideological contest since 2008, when Maryland’s Donna F. Edwards ousted Rep. Albert R. Wynn.
Inaction on the part of national Democrats has boosted Newman. Blue Dog Democrats, conservative members of the party whose numbers have dropped dramatically in recent years, chastised the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for staying neutral, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did not bother to endorse Lipinski until a reporter brought it up at a March 1 news conference.
“It is helpful that they are staying out of the race,” Newman said in a Sunday interview on MSNBC. “It’s more democratic and fair that way.”
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), a prominent Blue Dog, said he did not expect the close race to encourage more primary challenges.
“I’d hope that Democrats would try and channel their enthusiasms against other people, not fellow Democrats,” he said. “I’d hope the long-term view is that we need to get to 218 in the House.
Democrats also face a crowded primary for attorney general, with former governor Pat Quinn aiming for a comeback after his 2014 defeat by Rauner.
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Correction: A previous version of this piece inaccurately reported that Barack Obama lost the 6th Congressional District of Illinois twice. He lost it once and won it once.
Mark Guarino in Chicago contributed to this report.
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