• Caroline Kubzansky
    SEP 30, 2021

    UNLOCKED

    Pritzker’s ad spending dwarfs challengers in early stages of governor's race

    article-image
    Clockwise from top left: campaign adds released by Gov. JB Pritzker, Sen. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia), businessman Gary Rabine and former Sen. Paul Schimpf.

    Illinois’ primary election is almost nine months away, but incumbent Gov. JB Pritzker is already splashing out on ad buys promoting his record of leading Illinois through COVID-19. Republican challengers are also ponying up for ads as the primary race begins to take shape, but they’re spending far less money than the incumbent.

    In the two months since Pritzker announced he was running for reelection, his campaign has released 10 video ads. In the three months prior, between April and June, the campaign spent $1,102,227 on advertising and media, making purchases with companies including the Washington, DC-based Gambit Strategies and Chicago Billboards. 

    That money is just a fraction of the $35 million Pritzker has already poured into his reelection campaign.

    Meanwhile, Republicans are making ad purchases focused on Pritzker’s use of executive authority throughout COVID-19, taxes and boosting name recognition for candidates. Over the course of the second quarter of 2021, the buys ranged from $8,000 to $35,000. 

    The totals do not include in-kind donations of advertising or media, which candidates can also use to signal-boost their campaigns.

    Ken Redfield is an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Illinois-Springfield. A specialist in campaign finance, he said the amount of money being spent so far is consistent with overall campaign finance trends. 

    “We've had a dramatic increase in spending with governor's races as you go between 2006 2010, 2014, 2018 — it really jumped every cycle,” Redfield told The Daily Line on Wednesday.

    However, Redfield said, whether the state will see similar spending in 2022 as in 2018 — when Pritzker spent a total of $173 million to defeat Gov. Bruce Rauner, who spent $79 million — depends on “whether there's a credible opponent on the Republican side” and whether the conservative Chicago billionaire Ken Griffin invests in the race.

    The Republican primary race currently has four declared candidates: State Sen. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia), former State Senator Paul Schimpf,  businessman Gary Rabine and venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan. The race does not yet have a clear frontrunner.

    Given the race’s fluidity and legislative Democrats’ tight grip on the reins in the statehouse, Redfield said Griffin might consider it a bad use of money to try and turn the governor’s mansion red again.

    “How much money are you willing to spend to get the Republicans above 20 seats in the Senate?” Redfield asked. “It may be more attractive to him to invest in judicial elections this time around.”

    Meanwhile, Pritzker can still spend money to reinforce the public’s idea of him as a strong leader through uncertain times, he said.

    Pritzker had to spend big last election “because nobody knew who he was,” Redfield said. But after a barrage of daily COVID briefings last year, name recognition isn’t an issue for him. Instead, Redfield said Pritzker can spend to “reinforce his position to discourage the opposition.” 

    Pritzker’s ads

    Ads currently running for the governor revolve around the COVID-19 pandemic. Though Pritzker has received pushback for what opponents have called a “go it alone” attitude toward the virus, particularly from legislative Republicans, the ads emphasize small business relief, the rollout of vaccinations in Illinois and Pritzker’s reliance on science to guide his decisions.

    Follow the Science” touts the governor’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as “strong leadership in tough times.” The ad shows Pritzker saying he’ll throw the full force of state power at the COVID-19 pandemic, speaking about vaccines and arguing that Illinois doesn’t need to prioritize its economy over the health of its citizens.

    Meet Corey” features Pritzker talking about a physician assistant and state National Guardsman who was activated to assist with testing and vaccines. 

    “Our state is back to business because we refused to let this pandemic beat us,” Pritzker says over clips of crowded bars, restaurants and baseball games.

    What’s at Stake,” narrated by Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton, lays out the administration’s goals around systemic racism and the pandemic. 

    “I know election day feels like it’s a lifetime away, but it will be here before we know it and it’s the work we do right now that will set us up for victory next November,” Stratton says in the spot. 

    Strong Leadership” focuses on Pritzker’s handling of the pandemic, saying he prioritized protecting the livelihoods of Illinoisans. The ad highlights rounds of state-funded small business relief and childcare grants and shows newspaper clipping about Illinois “reopening” in Phase 5 of the COVID-19 recovery plan.

    “From the beginning, JB Pritzker knew we faced a serious threat,” a voiceover says. “In Washington, science took a backseat to politics, but in Illinois, we knew the stakes were too high.”

    The ad features a mix of small business owners, healthcare workers and local government officials praising Pritzker’s work on COVID-19. 

    Meet Jenica” is about a nurse who was part of the COVID-19 response. The ad then cuts to Pritzker calling healthcare workers heroes.  

    Meet Doris and Rick” features the owners of a Rochelle farm that paused bourbon production to make hand sanitizer at the start of the pandemic.

    “Now the bourbon’s flowing again in Rochelle and we’re on our way back,” Pritzker says over clips of him walking around the distillery.

    In This Together” shows a snippet of a speech by Pritzker about unity through the pandemic.

    “One lasting legacy of this is that when this is over, we will have demonstrated that we are all in this together and that we will stand up for each other when things get tough,” the governor says. 

    Inspiration” is a clip of Pritzker talking about his respect for healthcare and other front line workers.  

    Cares Deeply” makes a connection between Pritzker’s loss of his parents and the loss of life throughout the pandemic. 

    “Every day that I woke up during this pandemic and looked at how many people had died, I knew, thinking about each one of those people, what they were going through, what their families were going through,” Pritzker says in the ad. 

    All of Us” is another recognition of Illinois healthcare workers and a nod to a second term: “I’m so hopeful about what we can achieve, all of us, together,” Pritzker says.

    Republican challengers take different spending approaches 

    Sen. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia), who launched his campaign in February, spent $27,671.14 on advertising between April and June. According to campaign finance reports, $450 of that money went to campaign videos and more than $23,000 went to yard signs. 

    Bailey appeared to do most of his spending on videos in the first quarter of 2021, when he spent $21,750.05 on “consulting” services by Cold Spark Media Group, a political ad shop that’s done work for the likes of former Gov. Bruce Rauner, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

    The campaign spent another $1,585 on “Fire Pritzker” postcards and $209.52 went toward campaign t-shirts.

    Bailey has released five ads. The first, titled “Pritzker's Fatal Mismanagement of the LaSalle Veterans' Home,” attacks the governor over the 36 veterans who died of COVID-19 at LaSalle Veterans’ home last fall.

    Related: ‘Damning and heartbreaking’ LaSalle Veterans’ Home audit draws calls for tougher scrutiny

    “Under Pritzker’s fatal mismanagement, LaSalle Veteran’s Home suffered the deadliest COVID-19 outbreak in Illinois,” Bailey says in the ad, which aired in February. “The only failed governor that’s cost people their lives is J.B. Pritzker.”

    Bailey’s second ad calls Pritzker “the mandate candidate” in response to his actions around COVID-19.

    “If you’ve already defeated COVID, governor, why are Illinoisans still under your thumb?,” the ad asks.

    Vaccine Passports? Absolutely Not.” features Bailey condemning the Pritzker administration’s “overreach of government.”

    “Friends, governor Pritzker and the political elites support vaccine passports because they want to control you,” Bailey says in the ad. “Widespread vaccines will bring us closer to normal, but we don’t need the heavy hand of government creating cards to check before we can buy groceries.”

    Fight for Illinois” focuses on the state’s population loss.

    In the ad, Bailey tells a crowd “our family and friends are leaving because of high taxes” and touts his religious values and fiscal conservatism.

    Pritzker backpedals FURTHER on Independent and Fair Maps” knocks the governor’s campaign promise to veto a map drawn for partisan advantage. Pritzker signed off on the latest redistricting plan last week, saying the Democrat-crafted remap would reflect the diversity of Illinois and preserve minority representation in the General Assembly. 

    Related: Pritzker signs updated legislative maps, saying they ‘reflect Illinois’ diversity’

    A significant amount of Bailey’s money has gone toward yard signs and T-shirts. Redfield called the spending choices “pretty old-fashioned.”

    “Bumper stickers or buttons, they probably don't swing any voters,” he said. “They help solidarity among your campaign team.”

    A more modern strategy is to leverage social media platforms for publicity and donations.

    “You hire people to work Facebook and all of the other social medias, and you try to get people to give you money on social media,” Redfield said.

    Schimpf is making buys in social media advertising, spending a total of $2,023.25 on Facebook ads. He’s also spent $1,442.21 on signs and $630 on T-shirts as part of his $8,317 in media expenditures so far.

    Schimpf has released three videos. The first spot, a two-minute introductory video, features Schimpf’s time in the military and in the State Senate, where he represented the 58th Senate District in southwestern Illinois.

    Schimpf’s most recent ad, “Continuing to Develop Solutions that Keep People Safe,” went up last week. It emphasizes Schimpf’s role as a military prosecutor and his involvement in updating the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

    Another video, “My Role in the Trial of Saddam Hussein,” draws a connection between Schimpf’s role as a lead American attorney adviser in Iraq, touching on his education at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. 

    “If you’ve dealt with Saddam Hussein… you’re not going to be intimidated by Illinois politics in Springfield or Chicago,” Schimpf says in the spot.

    Sullivan entered the primary race this month and has not yet submitted a D-2 report. A campaign representative was not able to provide a media spending estimate to The Daily Line.

    Sullivan, who founded the San Francisco-based venture capital firm Alter, has released an ad doubling down on his Illinois roots. In the spot, Sullivan says he’s spent the last five years “right here in Illinois.”

    Sullivan has released one other main ad: a three-minute introduction to his life and campaign touching on his upbringing and platform. Additionally, he’s running “vlogs” about his family life on his YouTube page. 

    Rabine has spent $32,300 on advertising and media so far, not including $5,000 in media consulting fees. $17,468.50 of that money has funded t-shirts and banners, while another $14,861.50 has gone to signage. 

    Rabine has one ad, also the only video on this official YouTube page. The nearly four-minute spot, titled “Illinois Strong,” calls Pritzker “a California trust-fund billionaire” who “destroyed our state with some of the harshest lockdowns in America.”

    The ad also gives a rundown of Rabine’s “American Dream” career story in the paving business before closing with Rabine’s call for “a job creator and a property tax fighter in Illinois.”

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