Updated: 3:10 p.m.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden in the Democratic presidential race on Friday, less than two weeks before Illinois voters head to the polls.
Speaking to reporters at the downtown Union League Club, Lightfoot said the upcoming race for the White House is “the most consequential of my life time.”
“What we have seen is a rise – not just in hateful speech – but in hateful, violent actions that have left people in this and other communities afraid,” Lightfoot said.
“Leadership is often forged in the fire of tragedy. Vice President Biden’s crisis and those his family have experienced are well known. What impresses me is how Joe Biden has turned his pain into empathy and purpose.”
Those big-name endorsements put most of the state’s Democratic establishment in Biden’s corner. That gives him a decided advantage heading into the state’s presidential primary, where his main rival for the nomination is Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Florida, Ohio and Arizona will also hold their primaries March 17. Together, they all pose a crucial test for Sanders, who needs a signature victory — or victories — to slow the surprise momentum Biden now has as a result of his Super Tuesday turnaround, which saw him take the delegate lead from Sanders.
The only polling that has taken place in Illinois had Sanders in the lead, but that survey by Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute is almost a month old and did not take into account Biden’s recent surge.
With Sanders’ own ties to the Chicago Teachers Union’s top brass and to Democratic U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, he is hoping to build on his 2016 performance in Illinois. He gave eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton a scare by finishing less than 2 percentage points behind her.
Sanders is scheduled to be in Chicago on Saturday for a rally at Grant Park, while Biden plans an appearance at a fundraiser late next week. On Friday Biden’s wife, Jill, headlined a fundraiser in north suburban Glencoe that raised about $100,000 for her husband’s campaign.
Even before Friday’s endorsements, Biden had lined up backing from U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth and several key members of the state’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Reps. Bill Foster, Mike Quigley and Robin Kelly.
Sanders’ highest-profile backers have included Garcia and the CTU’s top two leaders, Jesse Sharkey and Stacy Davis-Gates. The 28,000-member teachers’ union has not taken a formal stance in favor of Sanders after a push to do so in February fell short of the needed votes.
“I think with the type of support he has from young people, from Latinos, his performance with African Americans from four years ago, and the energy he brings to the campaign puts him in a real position to contend and win Illinois,” Garcia told WBEZ this week.
The only top-tier Democrat not to take a public position in the presidential primary is Gov. JB Pritzker, who reiterated again Friday that he doesn’t intend to endorse either Biden or Sanders ahead of the state’s primary.
Picking one side or the other could risk alienating part of the Democratic base that Pritzker is counting on this fall to help pass his chief policy goal: a change to the Illinois constitution that would scrap the state’s flat income tax and replace it with sliding rates that would impose higher taxes on the wealthy.
Claudia Morell is a city political reporter for WBEZ. Dave McKinney covers state politics for WBEZ.