• Ben Szalinski
    OCT 31, 2023


    Democrats use million-dollar fundraising gala to build excitement for DNC, 2024 races

    Democratic Party of Illinois Chair Lisa Hernandez speaks at the party’s gala at the Field Museum on Friday. [Blue Room Stream]

    The Democratic Party of Illinois held their first gala fundraiser on Friday as the party gears up for 2024 and Chicago’s role as the host city of the Democratic National Convention (DNC).   

    The gala was the first of its kind under Chair Lisa Hernandez and raised more than $1 million as the party looks to diversify funding sources and build up resources outside of campaign season. The party has previously relied heavily on contributions from labor groups or more recently Gov. JB Pritzker to fund election operations while the party remained relatively inactive outside election years.  

    Friday’s event at the Field Museum in Chicago featured speeches from various top Democrats in Illinois and resembled the Democratic County Chair’s Association annual breakfast during the State Fair. With the 2024 election year one year away, Democrats focused on building excitement for the DNC and contrasting accomplishments by Illinois Democrats with the headlines Republicans are making for interparty fighting.  

    “I kind of like seeing elephants in a museum,” keynote speaker U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) said, pointing out the Field Museum’s elephant statues in the main hall. “That’s our mission tonight.”   

    Illinois elects statewide officials in non-presidential years, which means the likely presidential match up of President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will draw the most attention and even impact down ballot races for Congress, the General Assembly and local governments.  

    “We’re working around the clock to make sure Democrats have the resources to keep Illinois and the presidency blue in 2024,” Hernandez said.  

    Democrats questioned why Republicans should have the opportunity to govern when they’ve struggled to be unified as a party. Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson joked he enjoyed observing the speaker impasse.  

    “That’s how reckless the Republican Party is,” Johnson said. “While the Republican Party is leading insurrections, Democrats are making investments.” 

    U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the Republican Party’s struggles are a good sign for Illinois Democrats.  

    “I suppose we Democrats can take some comfort in the fact that the Republican Party has fallen so low,” Durbin said. “I suppose we could even look at the Illinois Republican Party and realize the current generation of state leadership is little better than House Republicans in Washington.” 

    Illinois’ Republicans lack big-name statewide leadership as Democrats hold all of the statewide offices. They also hold a large super majority over Republicans in the General Assembly and just three Republicans represent the state in the U.S. House. House Speaker Chris Welch (D-Hillside) didn’t give the minority party of his chamber a free pass and argued they take many of the same positions as Republicans on the national stage. 

    “Republicans in Illinois are just like the Republicans we see in D.C.,” Welch said. “They don’t believe in a right to choose; they believe in allowing military style assault weapons on our streets. We have more to do in 2024.”  

    Building up excitement for the DNC in August, Democrats pointed to a list of accomplishments they’ve achieved in recent years that Johnson said makes Illinois the “vanguard of progressive policy for the entire country.” 

    They cited new abortion protections, the assault weapons ban, increased minimum wage, clean energy legislation, new school funding and improved budgets as proof Democrats can govern.  

    “The accomplishments of Illinois Democrats would’ve been unimaginable to me when I took office in 2002… Illinois has been a shining example of how every state can achieve progressive policies to benefit people,” Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) said.  

    Democrats hope those policy victories set an agenda for Democrats around the country and are showcased at next year’s convention.  

    “It’s not just about showing off Chicago…It is about rebuilding the blue wall,” U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said. “What we do here in Chicago next year is going to help us” keep control of the Senate. The convention will show “what progressive, working family progressive policies can do and that we here in the Midwest are going to lead our way back to the future.” 

    Hernandez said she hopes the party will make the fundraising gala an annual event.  

    Across the aisle, the Illinois Republican Party will host their first “Bank the Vote” Gala in Rosemont in February. The gala is part of a nationwide effort by the national Republican Party to encourage Republican voters to vote early or by mail to ensure that reliable Republican voters have participated, and the party can focus get-out-the-vote efforts on undecided voters. The Illinois GOP will host Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy as the keynote speaker.  

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