Pritzker wins, Rauner leads in Illinois gov primaries

Sara Burnett
Associated Press

Chicago – Billionaire J.B. Pritzker won the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor on Tuesday, defeating a member of a famous political family and a self-described “middle-class candidate” to advance to what could be the most expensive governor’s race in U.S. history.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a wealthy former private equity investor who like Pritzker has bankrolled most of his campaign, led his primary opponent, conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives, with more than 40 percent of precincts reporting votes.

In an interview with The Associated Press after the race call, Pritzker called the victory “amazing” and said he’s “really excited.”

“We’ve got some work to do for the next eight months because we’re going to go out and beat Bruce Rauner,” he said.

Rauner and Pritzker combined to spend more than $120 million out of their own pockets so far on the contest, putting the race on pace to top California in 2010 as the nation’s costliest governor’s race, should the incumbent win the GOP nomination.

Pritzker, 53, poured nearly $70 million into capturing a Democratic nomination that proved tougher than initially expected. The field also included developer Chris Kennedy, the 54-year-old son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy; and Daniel Biss, 40, a state senator who for much of the campaign joked that he only gave himself $25.

Rauner, 61, took advantage of a national GOP wave four years ago to pull off a surprising victory in a state otherwise dominated by Democrats and win his first political office. Rauner’s personal wealth is just shy of $1 billion, but Pritzker – an investor and one of the heirs to the Hyatt hotel chain – is worth several times more.

Ives raised just $4 million – less than any of the other prominent candidates, but has attacked the governor’s conservative credentials in edgy TV ads. One of them, which the chairman of the state GOP blasted as a “cowardly attempt to stoke political division,” portrays actors mockingly thanking Rauner for not doing enough to restrict illegal immigration, abortion and transgender bathroom rights.

In other races on the Illinois primary ballot, former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn – whom Rauner ousted in 2014 – was locked in a tough competition with state Sen. Kwame Raoul for state attorney general. There also are numerous contested congressional primary races, including progressive candidate Marie Newman’s challenge to seven-term Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski.

But none involved the kind of spending as seen in the governor’s race. Personal wealth solidified Rauner and Pritzker’s front-runner status but also made them frequent targets for opponent attacks.