State Sen. Darren Bailey may not know much about running a successful campaign for governor, but he sure knows political theatrics.
That’s why the symbolism surrounding Bailey’s announcement last week that he’s running for the Republican nomination for governor next year was right on the money.
The angry populist from tiny Clay County (pop. 13,815) fired up supporters by entering an Effingham ballroom to the sound of a ringing boxing bell while an announcer asked those present, “Are you ready to rumble?”
Nice touch — political campaigns are supposed to be fun. That’s how candidates fire up the faithful.
But Bailey, who is from Xenia, isn’t kidding about his pugilistic intentions.
He’s using a litany of grievances as the basis for a statewide campaign that, if the political handicappers know anything, will be long on rhetoric and woefully short on votes.
What he’s selling — fire-and-brimstone conservatism — doesn’t have much of a market in solidly liberal, solidly Democratic Illinois. Indeed, analysts last week predicted to one political reporter that if Bailey is the GOP nominee, the campaign against incumbent Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker will be over before it even starts.
That could happen, and Pritzker, Illinois’ multibillionaire governor, is fervently praying it does.
All that’s necessary is for a small army of GOP candidates to split up the March 2022 primary vote, allowing Bailey’s fervent supporters to carry him across the primary finish line.
Some may scoff at the theory. But that’s exactly what happened in 2010, when former Bloomington-area state Sen. Bill Brady pulled off a surprise less-than-200-vote win in a seven-candidate GOP primary field.
Brady then came within a whisker (roughly 30,000 votes) of defeating former Gov. Pat Quinn in the 2010 general election.
So far, Bailey is the second GOP candidate to officially announce. Former Waterloo state Sen. Paul Schmipf, a former U.S. Marine Corps officer and lawyer, also is in. Others are waiting in the wings to join the two-person field.
While Schmipf is a mainstream conservative looking to appeal to Democrats and Independents as well as Republicans, Bailey’s rhetoric indicated he’s pursuing angry and disaffected Illinoisans who are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.
A lot of Illinoisans are justifiably disgusted with their bankrupt and dysfunctional state government. The question is whether Bailey’s anger is enough to sustain a broad-based political movement necessary to elect a governor.
“Far too long, citizens of Illinois have been left without a voice. People in Illinois have been divided. We’ve been used. We’ve been mocked. We’ve been marginalized,” said Bailey, using the time-worn appeal of self-pity on the aggrieved.
Bailey and his ideological cohorts in the General Assembly have been mocked. But they’ve paved the way for some of that abuse by leading with their chins.
He and others, objecting to Chicago’s political and economic dominance of the state, have called for Illinois to separate itself from Chicago and Cook County. That’s never going to happen, and advocating it invites ridicule.
Bailey also is a member of what’s called the “Eastern Block,” a pejorative attached to die-hard General Assembly conservatives who’d rather lose than moderate their positions to appeal to a broader base of voters.
One of Bailey’s targets is U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who has drawn media attention as a Republican publicly critical of former President Donald Trump.
Though Kinzinger has a solid conservative voting record — one that would horrify the liberals cheering his anti-Trump stance — Bailey said of him, “He calls himself a Republican. No, he’s a Democrat. Get him out of office.”
Clearly, Bailey and his adherents are more interested in party purges than party building. That’s just one stance he’s crystal clear about.
He wants a spending freeze and plans to lead based on the lessons “I’ve learned from faith, family and community.”
Bailey has no time for the “country club” set. He’s filed multiple failed legal challenges to the governor’s coronavirus lockdown orders. He doesn’t cotton to the “elites,” and he plans to expel the “evil, wicked stuff” that dominates Illinois.
There’s no question that Bailey’s putting his ideological hay down where the goats can get it. But, despite Bailey’s claims that he’s in the vanguard of a growing movement, there’s considerable doubt that it’s big enough and hungry enough to eke out a win.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-351-5369.