Conservative swashbuckler and State Sen. Darren Bailey had just won the Republican primary for governor of Illinois when the question started: What chance does the Xenia farmer whose colleagues once voted to remove him from their chamber for the day for his refusal to wear a face mask really have at unseating Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker?
"It will be difficult but not impossible," former GOP State Sen. and retired Circuit Judge Ed Petka told Newsmax shortly after Bailey was declared the winner over five opponents with 57% of the vote.
According to Petka — a conservative stalwart who supported one of Bailey's opponents — "when people are upset with Biden and the Democrats over the cost of gasoline and the shortage of baby formula and crime is on the rise here, then you can't say it's impossible Darren Bailey will beat Pritzker."
Pritzker's handling of the pandemic drew poor marks from many citizens throughout the Prairie State. Moreover, the governor supported a statewide initiative last year that would repeal the state's constitutional requirement that a state income tax be a flat rate and allow for a graduated income tax.
The Pritzker-backed measure lost by a margin of 53% to 47%.
Petka and many others on the right freely concede that an estimated $17 million expenditure by the billionaire governor and the Democratic Governors Association provided a big boost to Bailey's candidacy.
In the twilight weeks of the campaign, the Democrat-backed ads denounced Bailey for his strong anti-abortion position, his support of the right to keep and bear arms and of former President Donald Trump — all positions that would no doubt enhance his standing among GOP primary voters.
A Chicago Sun-Times/WBEZ Poll conducted before the primary showed 57% of likely primary voters viewed Bailey as very or somewhat favorable as opposed to 16% unfavorable.
(Trump himself did endorse Bailey, but that was on the Saturday before the primary and came at a time when polls showed the farmer-candidate with double-digit leads over primary foe and Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin).
Also assisting Bailey was billionaire Richard Uihlein, who gave his campaign $9 million and contributed another $8 million to the People Who Play by the Rules Political Action Committee, which has run negative media broadsides against Irvin.
So, four years after Pritzker unseated moderate Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner by 54% to 39%, he clearly has the opponent he most wanted in Bailey — inarguably the most conservative Republican nominated for governor in memory.
"But the difference is that it is not 2018 anymore," said Petka, "And that's why you have to keep your eyes on the generic ballot here — and on Darren Bailey."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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