Leading Illinois GOP U.S. Senate candidate protested at the Capitol on Jan. 6

If Peggy Hubbard wins the GOP primary June 28, she’d be among more than 100 candidates across the country who embrace the false claim that Trump won the 2020 election.

U.S. Capitol
The U.S. Capitol building is seen as the sun sets on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. Gemunu Amarasinghe / Associated Press
U.S. Capitol
The U.S. Capitol building is seen as the sun sets on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. Gemunu Amarasinghe / Associated Press

Leading Illinois GOP U.S. Senate candidate protested at the Capitol on Jan. 6

If Peggy Hubbard wins the GOP primary June 28, she’d be among more than 100 candidates across the country who embrace the false claim that Trump won the 2020 election.

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One of the apparent frontrunners in the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Illinois was part of the protests at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and has characterized the fatal insurrection as “a party at Showbiz Pizza.”

Just days ahead of the Capitol riot, Peggy Hubbard told her Facebook followers that she intended to board a Washington, D.C.-bound bus with “my fellow Illinoisans/Patriots” to take “the fight for our Constitution directly to the establishment” — or, “the swamp,” as she called it — and to “stir things up!”

Now, Hubbard, who has indicated she does not regard President Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election, is tied or leading in polls heading into the June 28 primary election. The winner of the seven-way race will go on to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth this fall.

The Washington Post recently reported that more than 100 GOP candidates across the country who embrace the false claim Trump makes that Biden isn’t America’s legitimate president have won Republican primaries through the end of May.

If Hubbard gets out of her primary, she could be in that same company, and that alarms people such as Joanna Lydgate, co-founder of the States United Democracy Center, a bi-partisan election watchdog that monitors election deniers winning state-level campaigns for posts that oversee vote-counting or certification.

“We’re seeing people, who are ‘stop the steal’ supporters, who’ve spread lies and conspiracy theories about our elections, some who were even at the rally at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, trying to take over these positions,” Lydgate said. “It’s like putting arsonists in charge of the fire department.”

“We saw in 2020 the importance of having senators who in the process of certifying the presidential election results will follow the will of the American people. We saw an effort by a sitting president to overturn that will,” she said. “So those positions are essential.”

Lydgate’s group identifies other election deniers in Illinois, including gubernatorial candidate Max Solomon and attorney general candidate David Shestokas. U.S. Rep. Mary Miller is another one on the ballot this spring and, like Hubbard, she took part in protests on Jan. 6 in the nation’s capital.

Their apparent unwillingness to acknowledge Biden’s win in 2020 seems to be in lockstep with the Illinois Republican primary electorate. This month’s WBEZ/Sun-Times poll showed that 67% of those likely primary voters surveyed did not view the results of the presidential election as legitimate; another 15% weren’t sure.

But former two-term Republican Gov. Jim Edgar and the pollster involved in the WBEZ/Sun-Times survey said Hubbard’s extreme positions on Biden’s election and on Jan. 6 could make her politically toxic this fall, should she get out of the primary.

“There are a lot of Republicans, unfortunately from my point of view, that probably agree with some of her views. But if she was the nominee for U.S. Senate at the top of the ticket, I don’t think she could win,” said Edgar, who served between 1991 and 1999.

“She also could cause some drag on the people down the ballot. That’s the fear if you have somebody in the U.S. Senate or the governor’s race (who) have kind of extreme views,” Edgar continued. “Not only may they not win, but they might take a lot of other people with them.”

Hubbard on Jan. 6: ‘I was there, I know what happened.’

A WBEZ/Sun-Times poll taken on June 6 and 7 had Hubbard, a Navy veteran and former cop from downstate Belleville, in a dead-heat at 10 percentage points apiece with Mundelein attorney Kathy Salvi, whose husband, Al, was the GOP’s 1996 U.S. Senate nominee against Democrat Dick Durbin.

A week later, a poll by the Trafalgar Group had Hubbard in the lead.

Others in the Senate primary include Matthew Dubiel, Anthony Williams, Jimmy Lee Tillman II, Casey Chlebek and Robert Piton, who also is an election denier. All but Dubiel were polling in the low single digits in the WBEZ/Sun-Times survey while Dubiel stood at 7%. The poll’s margin of error was +/-3.8%.

Politically, Hubbard is not a household name in Illinois, and there are suburban mayors with larger campaign kitties than she has at less than $24,000 as of earlier this month. In terms of money, she’s trailing three of her primary rivals and hasn’t had an advertising presence on Chicago-area television. Hubbard’s previous foray as a statewide candidate ended in marked failure in 2020, when she finished a distant second in the five-way GOP U.S. Senate primary to take on Durbin.

Hubbard didn’t respond to inquiries from WBEZ over multiple platforms — her email, her campaign website or through her Facebook pages, including one named, “Peggy Hubbard American Patriot.”

But it’s there, on Facebook, before a combined audience of 360,000 followers, that she posts lengthy, vitriolic monologues targeting Democrats and Black activists. Hubbard herself is Black.

She’s also used that online platform to defend people, like herself, who traveled to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, to protest Congress’ certification of the presidential election.

In a more recent Shaw Local News Network candidate questionnaire, Hubbard described her position on the Jan. 6 riots: “I was there, I know what happened. I will keep MY opinions to myself.”

Pressed on whether events at the Capitol constituted an “insurrection,” Hubbard said no. And she advocated for the pardoning of anyone convicted of crimes related to January 6th — a position Trump himself floated recently.

But in front of supporters, Hubbard has minimized what happened while stumping on the campaign trail, telling an audience at a Back the Blue rally in downstate Bloomington last August: “I was there Jan. 6th. It was like a party at Showbiz Pizza. I’m telling you the truth. It wasn’t what everybody thinks it was.”

Hubbard said she was kicked off Facebook for a period of time following the insurrection.

“They took me down off of Facebook. I had 567,000 followers. I told the truth. Facebook shut me down within eight hours,” she said at that August law-enforcement rally in Bloomington.

But some of her posts before Jan. 6 and afterward are still accessible.

Hubbard Facebook post
This photo was posted to one of Peggy Hubbard’s Facebook pages. Facebook

Hubbard in D.C.

In 2021, after displaying a graphic with the U.S. Capitol in the background and announcing her plans to join a bus trip to Washington, Hubbard gave a daily snapshot on Facebook into some of her activities before and after the insurrection.

In a Jan. 5, 2021, post at 2:13 a.m., Hubbard talked about feeling anxiety and excitement about how she soon was “going to bare (sic) witness to greatness” and be “demanding that WE the people will be heard. Win, lose or draw. History is about to be made in Washington DC.”

Once in Washington, Hubbard did not make clear exactly where she was when the violent, pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol. On Facebook, Hubbard said she “was at the Capitol with other Trump supporters” and “saw people that were there to support fair and transparent elections.”

On the night of the insurrection, at 7:52 p.m., Hubbard posted that “what I witnessed today, is the warning shots of a civil war in the making.”

And in a later post that day, at 10 p.m., she pointed blame at Antifa, a leaderless, sometimes militant movement that has confronted white supremacists and is a frequent bogeyman of the far right. (Ongoing congressional hearings on the insurrection and federal prosecutors have attributed the day’s violence not to Antifa but instead to hard-right, Trump-aligned extremist groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.)

“We are taxpayers who believed in fair elections and watched in real time the steal of our values and our country,” Hubbard wrote. “What we saw was the people pushing back and revolting against the corruption.”

Earlier this year, on the year anniversary of Jan. 6, Hubbard’s said those who breached the Capitol should be held “accountable” for their actions, but she still engaged in significant political whatabout-ism regarding the day itself.

“People stood up and wanted their voices heard and for that, we’re belong labeled as ‘terrorists.’ But you don’t say anything about Black Lives Matter. You don’t say anything about Antifa taking over a city, destroying a community,” she said.

Hubbard and Trump

One national pollster sees a scenario where Hubbard, with her election denialism and involvement in and statements about Jan. 6, could win the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Illinois.

“We’re in a position where the race is pretty wide open,” said Jim Williams, an analyst with Public Policy Polling, the North Carolina-based firm that conducted the WBEZ/Sun-Times poll. “And in a situation like that, it often comes down to who is Trump for, if he’s going to be for anybody.

“What we know about Mr Trump these days is that he likes it when people are on his side with this whole thing about he’s the one who actually won the 2020 presidential election. So if that’s the base that she’s building herself,” Williams said of Hubbard, “she could be positioning herself to maybe get that nod, explicit or not, from Donald Trump and go ahead and win this Republican primary.”

Even if a Republican wave reaches Illinois as is expected in other parts of the country, Williams said he doesn’t foresee someone like Hubbard being competitive against Duckworth this fall — unless there is some kind of political tidal wave.

“We’d have to have quite a big collapse in Democrats’ fortunes for the U.S. Senate seat in Illinois to really be in danger,” he said. “I don’t think that nominating somebody with these fringe views, or these hardcore views about the election, would be the way to win a general election in Illinois.”

A representative for Duckworth did not respond to WBEZ regarding Hubbard’s candidacy. Nor did anyone from Salvi’s campaign.

But Edgar believes the same thing about Hubbard — that her views on the election and Jan. 6, stances the ex-governor characterized as “a little scary,” make her a likely electoral non-starter this fall if she makes it out of the primary.

In fact, he doubts there is any way he’d consider voting for her should she win the GOP nomination.

“It’s not somebody I would feel comfortable with, with those views, being in the U.S. Senate,” Edgar said.

Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics and government for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @davemckinney.