Darren Bailey, the Republican nominee for Illinois governor, spent the summer bashing Chicago as “a crime-ridden, corrupt, dysfunctional hellhole.” But apparently, he’s had a change of heart. He recently admitted that he was living atop the city in the John Hancock Center, one of Chicago’s biggest skyscrapers.
Bailey’s persistent anti-Chicago rhetoric presents a political quandary for the candidate: His criticism of the city and its Democratic leadership is cheered by his hard-right supporters, but he also needs the support of voters in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs to win in November.
Bailey, 56, a state senator from largely rural downstate Illinois, is running against Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who is seeking his second term. He represents a sharp contrast to the past three Republican Illinois governors, who won by flexing fiscal conservative values and advocating for business-friendly policies, while remaining relatively moderate on social issues.
By contrast, Bailey, who has the endorsement of former president Donald Trump, frequently quotes Scripture in public and supports a total ban on abortion. He earned his reputation as a provocateur within his party for sponsoring legislation to separate Chicago from the rest of the state.
While his hard-right rhetoric and positions helped Bailey in the primary, they are unlikely to help in a general election where Republicans need to peel away voters from Chicago and its five collar counties. That region controlled by Democrats is denser in population and more racially and ethnically diverse than more rural regions of Illinois, where the population tends to be either stagnant or shrinking. President Biden only needed to win 14 of the state’s 102 counties to beat Trump by 17 percentage points in 2020.
John Jackson, a political scientist at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, said Bailey needs to “appeal to independents and Republicans who are more moderate and not prone to getting on board automatically with him.” While Trump’s endorsement helped tip a contentious six-person primary in his favor, Jackson said “it’s not nearly enough” to win the general election.
Bailey, who operates a large family farm that produces corn, wheat and soybeans in downstate Xenia, located about 250 miles from Chicago, is more in his element when talking to voters far outside the city. Addressing a crowd of farmers in rural McLean County last month, Bailey described Chicago in almost apocalyptic terms. He compared it to “the O.K. Corral with shootouts and homicides every night.” At a campaign event this month, he called Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, all Democrats, “the Three Musketeers of crime, chaos and tragedy in the city of Chicago.”