Primary pugilists

Primary pugilists

Democrats running for Illinois governor are turning up the heat on one another as the March 20 election approaches.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has his share of political problems as he approaches the March 20 primary against a challenger from the aggrieved conservative wing of his party.

Nonetheless, it's on the Democratic side where the real action is. That's why the criticism Democrats previously leveled at Rauner — not to mention President Donald Trump — has become less the focus of their campaign rhetoric than the challenges and insults they're hurling at each other.

Although the Democrats have a bevy of candidates running, the big three are Chicago businessmen J.B. Pritzer and Christopher Kennedy and Evanston state Sen. Daniel Biss.

A fourth candidate, Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber, has made a small media splash but is otherwise a nonentity in public opinion polls.

For all intents and purposes, it's a three-man race, and each is pulling out all the stops to come out on top. After all, not one of them will get the chance to air his party's grievances against Rauner in the fall unless he wins in the spring.

So it's getting a little chippy as Biss and Kennedy take potshots at Pritzker while he returns fire at Biss. For now, Pritzer, based on public opinion polls, perceives Biss, the heir to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' hardcore-left votes, as his main threat.

But Kennedy isn't going down without a fight. He has denounced Pritzer as a "pay-to-play" favorite of deeply unpopular Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, and Biss as an insincere populist promising everything to everyone without showing how he'd pay for the programs he proposes.

For now, Pritzer is perceived as the front-runner, although he's largely unknown to the voting public. But he's got the support of party power brokers — elected officials and union leaders — and so much money that he can self-fund his own campaign while contributing significantly to other Democratic campaigns.

Pritzker just dumped another $7 million into his race on top of a previous $42 million.

But poll numbers indicate he's not getting his money's worth.

Although Pritzker is leading, polls have found that anywhere from 20 to nearly 40 percent of Democrats remain undecided.

A Global Strategy Group poll Pritzker commissioned and released show him with 41 percent of the vote compared with 22 percent for Biss, 16 percent for Kennedy and 20 percent undecided.

A We Ask America Poll showed Pritzker with almost 30 percent of the vote, Biss with 17 percent, Kennedy with 12 percent and a remarkable 38 percent undecided.

"Biss' improvement puts him within striking distance in the Democrat-rich environments of Chicago and suburban Cook. He falters elsewhere — especially downstate," We Ask America pollsters stated.

Between those who are soft supporters of Pritzker and undecided, there's a lot of ground to make up for Biss and Kennedy.

That's why the Biss campaign contends that Pritzker is "flailing" and Kennedy charges that Pritzker can't win the November general election.

Of course, candidates say a lot of things in campaigns, particularly in the late stages when it's no time to play nice.

So the three are each engaged in an effort to drive up the others' negative poll numbers.

With less than two month to go, the fight for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination is about to get really nasty, a prelude to a general-election fight that will make the primary fights in both parties look like a walk in the park.

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