Is the Funding Gap Between Pritzker and Bailey’s Campaigns Insurmountable?
When J.B. Pritzker and Darren Bailey released charge-and-response attack ads earlier this month, what the spots had to say was intriguing as some of the key messaging we’re likely to see leading into the November election was revealed.
They were a feisty pair of ads, to be sure, with Democrat incumbent Pritzker attacking the farmer and state Sen. Bailey for the government money he’s taken while professing to be against handouts – and Republican challenger Bailey firing back about the inheritor governor and his “soft hands” not knowing what it takes to run a business. More on the ads’ specifics in a moment.
But perhaps the bigger question was will anyone hear what Bailey has to say in light of the massive gap in money available to the two candidates for the state’s top office.
Pritzker has a fortune in his campaign coffers, plus his own deep pockets. Bailey, meanwhile, has a pittance.
Bailey came out of the primary with about $364,000 at the end of June, according to his campaign disclosure reports, and the large-dollar contributions reported since amount to only about $200,000 – totals that won’t go far in a state with expensive media markets like Chicago and St. Louis.
Pritzker, by contrast, reported $60.8 million available to his campaign committee. And with his billions in wealth and proven willingness to self-finance, he can boost that figure virtually any night of the week by holding a very successful fundraising dinner with himself.
“Bailey has not yet shown any ability to raise substantial money on his own, either before the primary or since. Bailey’s only reported contribution last week was just $1,000,” Rich Miller, the veteran state political observer, wrote in a Chicago Sun-Times column last week.
Republican megadonor Richard Uihlein of Lake Forest backed Bailey with some $9 million in the primary. But that money has been spent, and Uihlein thus far has been funneling his general-election donations to the People Who Play By the Rules PAC, run by conservative radio host Dan Proft, rather than to the Bailey for Illinois campaign committee.
“It’s not clear that you’re going to get any outside money that’s going to come in and help Bailey. He’s at a significant financial disadvantage,” said Kent Redfield, a campaign finance expert and professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Still, the Pritzker ad attacking Bailey and the Bailey response were fascinating.
Most of Pritzker’s messaging has been to try to paint Bailey as part of the “extreme” contemporary Republican Party. “Dangerous Darren Bailey,” says a Pritzker website, with ads spotlighting Bailey’s past comments about being opposed to abortion even in the case of rape or incest, and calling abortion’s toll worse than that of the Nazi Holocaust.
But the ad about the government handouts, entitled “You’re Welcome,” offered a different argument, one that tried to hit Bailey where he makes his living. It noted the more than $2 million in farm subsidies Bailey has received over the years and contrasted that with critical comments he has made about government “handouts” and “socialism.”
The ad goes on to echo a Chicago Tribune story from January, which noted that in February 2021 the candidate’s farm business received $231,475 in federal COVID Paycheck Protection Program money and then in March loaned $150,000 to his campaign committee.
Considering how little $150,000 is compared to the almost $12 million Bailey spent in winning the primary, it is a stretch for Pritzker to begin the ad by saying, “Guess who’s really paying for Darren Bailey’s campaign for governor? You are.”
But perhaps it struck a nerve because the Bailey team responded with its own ad, a 2-½-minute parking-lot monologue that got personal about what Bailey called “out-of-touch billionaire J.B.’s latest attack.”
"J.B. Pritzker has the gall to run a TV ad attacking me for running a business and doing whatever it takes to keep people employed during tough times,” Bailey says. “Governor Pritzker, you're spending millions of dollars of your family’s money to attack me for how I run my business—the business I built with my own two hands. You sit around with your soft hands, laughing with your snooty friends at the downstate farmer who thinks that he can make a difference.”
But while “out-of-touch trust-fund baby” can be an effective stereotype, Redfield said, it’s not an easy one to pin on Pritzker, who “has got two years’ worth of being the comforting figure dealing with COVID.”
Probably the more effective angle, Redfield said, is something like the one expressed in the latest Bailey ad, posted last week.It says suburban Chicago homicide rates have been climbing and that Pritzker signed a bill eliminating cash bail for criminals, part of a general attempt to portray the governor as soft on crime.
More curious is the framing: It clearly is trying to mock the governor’s ample weight, citing Pritzker’s own “thinking big” ad from four years ago. But Pritzker saying he thinks big and allegedly being soft on crime are messages that don’t fit together, plus it’s hard to tweak a guy for something he was clearly tweaking himself for in that initial ad. And Bailey himself is not a small man.
In any event, unless Bailey gets a campaign cash infusion, such messaging seems likely to live primarily on his campaign’s social media pages and in the occasional press articles that get written about him.
Bailey has shown he can do a lot with a little, dominating his primary against better-funded opponents, particularly the Ken Griffin-favored Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin. But a general election in a reliably blue state is a very different game than a party primary, a contest in which it takes not only message but money to compete.
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