SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois Republicans gathered for their annual day at the State Fair last week Thursday to showcase their candidates in the Nov. 8 election, vowing that the party will "restore Illinois."
But as the party faithful celebrated amid the sunshine, barbecue sandwiches, corn dogs and other fair staples, questions lingered about how unified the party will be in supporting its ticket given that many candidates have shied away from endorsing the party's gubernatorial nominee, state Sen. Darren Bailey, a southern Illinois farmer who has stirred controversy with his unguarded statements about abortion, the pandemic, Chicago and other issues.
"I may be a little bit rough around the edges, but I will work for you because I'm just like you," Bailey said to an enthusiastic crowd. "And friends, I promise you this -- no one will work harder for you."
Bailey emerged as the nominee out of a crowded field of gubernatorial hopefuls, garnering 57.5% of votes, beating out rivals that included investor Jesse Sullivan, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, businessman Gary Rabine and former state Sen. Paul Schimpf. During one candidate forum in the primary campaign, Bailey referred to the state's largest city as a "crime-ridden, corrupt, dysfunctional hellhole," reiterating that he believes Chicago has become a hellhole in his fair speech Thursday. In recent days he's also come under fire for old social media posts, including one in which he compared abortion in the United States to the Holocaust.
But he is perhaps best known for joining forces with downstate attorney Thomas DeVore, now the GOP nominee for attorney general, to file multiple lawsuits challenging Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker's COVID-19 mitigation orders.
"Let's say that we're going to be middle of the road and say it's a fair question as to whether or not he had the power -- it wasn't, he didn't have it. But let's say it's a fair question," DeVore told the gathering, speaking of Pritzker's executive order authority. "Ladies and gentlemen, if there's ever a fair question between something the governor is doing as it impacts the people, you never go against the people, ever. And that's where that man made a mistake."
When asked directly by reporters whether they will endorse Bailey for governor, most GOP candidates answered with statements insisting that they support the Republican Party's candidates generally, but rarely saying that they support Bailey specifically.
"I support the ticket, and we've got a great ticket. I'm supporting them and I've said that already after the (primary) election, so I will be campaigning with every Republican who's on the ballot between now and Election Day," House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, told reporters at an event earlier in the day.
Durkin also said he is focused on trying to gain seats in the Illinois House, where Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats, 45-73. But he touted the fact that this year, the party has candidates in 106 of the 118 House districts, a record for the GOP.
State party chairman Don Tracy, of Springfield, tried to brush aside suggestions of disunity.
"It was a really robust primary," he told reporters after the rally. "It was a really rough-and-tumble primary. We had a great unity event (Wednesday) night. Richard Irvin was there; Gary Rabine was there; Jesse Sullivan was there. They all spoke in favor of Darren Bailey."
The rally also featured candidates for other statewide offices, including secretary of state, where state Rep. Dan Brady, of Bloomington, hopes to establish a GOP foothold by focusing exclusively on the duties of that office.
"When you talk about the race statewide, I think it's really important to keep the focus on one thing, and that is what you're going to do to cut down those wait times (at driver's service facilities), what you're going to do in the secretary of state's office, how you're going to improve services, and that's what I'm talking about, and that's what people are talking to me about," he told reporters.
Other candidates speaking at the rally included treasurer candidate Rep. Tom Demmer, of Dixon; comptroller candidate Shannon Teresi, of Crystal Lake; U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Salvi, of Mundelein; and 13th District congressional candidate Regan Deering, of Decatur.
The rhetoric at the GOP rally was in stark contrast to that used by Democrats the day before, when Pritzker referred to Republicans as "the lunatic fringe." Republicans fired back on Thursday by casting the Pritzker administration and Democrats in the Statehouse as extreme leftists and accusing Pritzker of having higher ambitions.
"I have traveled all around our state to help our fellow Republicans rescue Illinois from the leftist Gov. Pritzker," Tracy said. "He now wants to run for president. Are you kidding me? What a disaster he's been for Illinois. Gov. Pritzker has done nothing to address public corruption, crime, the rising cost of gas and groceries.