Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

J.B. Pritzker at UI

Governor J.B. Pritzker speaks earlier this year at the University of Illinois College of Law Library about HB 3653, a major criminal justice reform bill.

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When Gov. J.B. Pritzker sat down to talk with reporters last week about his re-election campaign, an inevitable question came up.

Is he laying the groundwork for a White House run?

Feigning humility, he said, “I have no plans.”

Note that Pritzker’s statement is hardly Shermanesque. Of course he has plans. All rich, egomaniacal politicians believe deep in their hearts that they’re perfectly suited for a seat behind the desk in the Oval Office.

But it’s a long way from here to there. Beyond a simple curious inquiry, a Pritzker presidential run is barely worth discussing.

The question, however, was revealing because it presupposes that Pritzker’s second campaign for governor is a contest he’d have to work very hard to lose.

From all appearances, that is the case.

Here’s why. In terms of statewide politics, Republicans are the equivalent of a lost tribe wandering in the desert. In terms of policy, as weak as Illinois is, it’s still in arguably better shape than it was when Pritzker ousted former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2018.

Politics always trumps policy in this state, so let’s start there.

As hard as Democrats have worked to alienate voters outside Cook and its collar counties, they rule Illinois. They not only control the governor’s office, they have supermajorities in the House and Senate and a Supreme Court majority to protect them from proposed constitutional amendments (fair maps) that would institute changes allowing voters a greater say in how the state operates.

If Democrats carry

one county — Cook — by a large-enough margin, they can overcome GOP majorities in the other 101 counties. Further, to the extent they can continue to attract votes in the former Republican-dominated collar counties, they can claim landslide wins.

Democrats have forfeited downstate counties that used to support them. But areas where they have lost have smaller populations, while the collar counties where Democrats have gained are well-populated.

That has spelled doom for Republicans, who haven’t won a statewide race since 2014. The last Republican to run a competitive statewide race was Champaign lawyer Erika Harold, who lost attorney general in 2018 to Democrat Kwame Raoul.

Republicans have no shortage of candidates to challenge Pritzker. But from today’s perspective, they have a terrible shortage of credible candidates.

The policy landscape also favors Pritzker.

Sure, he’s made many people angry on the coronavirus front with his aggressive moves to enforce rigid rules. But many of them weren’t inclined to support him anyway.

As for the state’s economy, it’s in reasonable shape thanks to billions in federal coronavirus aid. The governor is bragging that he’s responsible for an improvement in the state’s bond rating — up one more notch above junk status. Most people will never figure out that it’s not because of anything he did but the tsunami of federal cash that bailed out his budget.

He has also signed legislation that plays well in the new media even if its impact on the body politic is mixed. Included in that category are marijuana legalization, criminal-justice reforms and gambling expansion.

Pritzker is also responsible for plenty of tax increases and a failed attempt to sell voters a plan for a new progressive income tax. But so what? Judging by the polls, a vast majority of Illinoisans either don’t remember or don’t care.

There’s also the not-so-small matter of being able — because of his multibillion-dollar family fortune — to spend any amount that suits him. Meanwhile, Republicans are selling apples on street corners to raise what little campaign cash they have.

In that context, it’s hard to imagine how Pritzker could be in any better political shape or the GOP could be in worse shape.

There are caveats, of course. The 2022 election is more than a year away, and a lot can — and will — happen between now and then. But Pritzker is sitting in the catbird’s seat, and moving him into a less-comfortable position presents a more-than-formidable challenge.

Jim Dey, a member of The

News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-393-8251.

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