In recent weeks, Governor JB Pritzker has made Roe v. Wade his central message seemingly every time he speaks. But in a state of more than 12 million people, one has to wonder if he’s exaggerating on this issue with suburbanites, moderates and independents. And is there more to the story?
In a survey conducted in early June by the Republican polling firm Ogden & Fry, nearly two-thirds of voters fall squarely in the middle on the abortion issue. Either they are pro-choice and support restrictions such as banning late or partial abortions, or they are pro-life with exceptions such as those for rape, incest or saving the life of the mother. The extremes on both sides are in the minority. The poll showed that around 22% of voters are pro-choice with no restrictions and around 14% are pro-life with no exceptions.
Moreover, a recent New York Times poll showed that abortion is not the issue that most people think about with the same level of obsession that activists or the national media seem to have. That’s probably the case at any time, but it’s evident this year, with so much economic uncertainty. The things that people really care about, gas prices, unemployment, inflation, crime and gun violence, are issues that affect the average person every day.
What is the driving force behind Pritzker’s submission to the most extreme wing of his party?
Pritzker’s recent visits to the early voting states of New Hampshire and Florida show he is at least dipping his toes into the idea of national politics. While speaking on WGN-TV on election night, I said his speech after securing the nomination and kicking off the fall campaign felt more like a boost for a 2024 campaign than a race in Illinois. The main theme? Abortion.
His campaign was quickly pushed back by telling me that Pritzker is “running for re-election as Governor of Illinois and nothing else.” But as President Biden’s approval numbers keep dropping and he continues to look physically and politically frail, it’s a stretch to believe he’d be on the ballot just days before his 82nd birthday. You can’t blame the governor for considering an opportunity.
It also adds fuel to the fire that Pritzker is more focused on a potential White House bid in 2024 than he is on his Republican challenger in November, conservative Sen. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia). Add the fact that Pritzker ended June with $60 million in his campaign account to Bailey’s $363,000 and you can see the level of confidence Democrats have in keeping the governor’s office in check.
Pritzker is a progressive governor, and it doesn’t seem like he speaks the language of the downstaters or the two-thirds of voters who fall in the middle on abortion. Still, Illinois needs a center-right or center-left leader who can begin to bridge some of the divisions that have made Illinois politics so nasty and toxic for too long. There’s a reason why Jim Edgar has remained popular with grassroots voters for so many years. He built bridges, he didn’t blow them away with rhetoric or negative publicity.
I don’t know if partisan voters still want that, but I know the public needs a people-focused leader. The same people who worry about putting food on the table, going to work with an empty gas tank, and keeping their kids safe at school.
If this race for governor continues to evolve or is uncompetitive, none of us will be better off.