A dozen Republicans are running in contested primary races for Illinois attorney general, secretary of state and one of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats — but just weeks before Election Day, GOP voters’ top choice in all three contests is “undecided.”
Not even the financial might of the state’s richest person has helped sway voters to rally behind two of the GOP establishment’s chosen candidates. And embracing former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud — or the support of his pardoned former national security adviser Michael Flynn — hasn’t helped any of the candidates gain traction in the U.S. Senate race.
That’s what’s suggested by a Chicago Sun-Times/WBEZ Poll of likely Republican voters — almost two-thirds of whom still aren’t sure about whom they want to send to the general election in the Senate race at the very top of the ballot and the two other contests a bit further down.
By comparison, only about a quarter of those same voters remain undecided about the six-way Republican gubernatorial race.
The survey by Public Policy Polling of 677 residents statewide — about half in the Chicago area and half downstate — was conducted June 6 and 7.
In the seven-way GOP race for a chance to face Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth in November, only two candidates cracked double digits in the poll — and just barely, at 10% each. Not that the rest of the field is out of it; a whopping 66% of respondents said they’re not sure who will get their vote in the June 28 primary.
Minds were only slightly more made up about the secretary of state and attorney general races, where respondents were undecided at rates of 58% and 59%, respectively.
The poll, conducted by telephone and text message, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
For the Senate race, the numbers at least partially reflect the difficulty for any Republican to gain traction or name recognition in a bid to take on Duckworth. For the other statewide candidates, the results suggest that big campaign dollars aren’t translating to broader support — at least not yet for billionaire Ken Griffin, the hedge fund magnate who has vowed to dig deep into his effectively bottomless pockets to defeat Gov. JB Pritzker and other Democrats in power.
The candidates bankrolled by Griffin have been dubbed “the Griffin slate”— or more derisively the “Rauner Reboot” by Illinois Democrats because they are being helped by political operatives tied to former GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner.
The slate’s candidates for attorney general and secretary of state both trailed primary rivals, according to the poll — and by double digits in one race.
Bloomington state Rep. Dan Brady led polling in the two-man race for secretary of state with 29% of support over John Milhiser, the Springfield attorney who previously served as the top federal prosecutor for Illinois’ central district. Milhiser polled just 13%.
That’s despite the $700,000 jolt Milhiser’s campaign received last month from donations that originated in Griffin’s lush bank accounts. The hefty contributions for Milhiser came from Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin’s GOP gubernatorial campaign fund, which has already been pumped up with $50 million from Griffin.
The money from Griffin, who is worth an estimated $26 billion, hasn’t bought a lead for Irvin in the governor’s race, either. Irvin had just 17% to state Sen. Darren Bailey’s 32% in the Sun-Times/WBEZ Poll.
Brady, a 21-year veteran of the General Assembly, isn’t crying poor, though. His campaign had more than $240,000 on hand at the end of March, and he has received more than $120,000 in additional contributions since then.
Another member of the Griffin slate was closer to a lead in the poll, but hardly cashing in on Griffin’s investment.
Steve Kim — an international business attorney from Deerfield who ran an unsuccessful bid for attorney general in 2010 — polled 18% for his latest go-round, putting him into a statistical tie with rival Tom DeVore, who had 20%. DeVore is a Bond County lawyer who has made a name for himself waging legal battles against Pritzker’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Kim has received a half million from Griffin via Irvin’s campaign, plus another $6,000 directly from the hedge fund founder. That’s more than 20 times the size of DeVore’s campaign fund in early April, when he reported $25,941 on hand. DeVore has listed only a handful of smaller donations since then.
The final GOP hopeful for attorney general, Orland Park constitutional lawyer David Shestokas, mustered 3% of support in the poll.
Shestokas, a past congressional candidate, has questioned whether Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election — an objectively unfounded theory of widespread voter fraud.
Two Senate candidates hit the double digits
That misguided view espoused by Trump is also represented among some in the seven-person GOP Senate primary.
Peggy Hubbard, a U.S. Navy veteran and retired IRS analyst from Belleville, has told the Daily Herald she thinks “there indeed was voter fraud” in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan.
Hubbard was tied for first place in the Senate primary with Mundelein attorney Kathy Salvi among GOP voters surveyed in the Sun-Times/WBEZ Poll.
Each had the support of 10% of those surveyed.
Hubbard, who had more than $25,000 in her campaign fund entering April, finished second with almost 23% of the vote in the 2020 GOP primary, then vying for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s seat.
Salvi, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2006, was self-financing her campaign. She had $250,398.40 in her political fund at the end of March, after lending it $250,000.
Radio executive Matt Dubiel garnered 7% in the poll. Dubiel, who told the Daily Herald that questions about 2020 election integrity “should not be ignored or trivialized,” didn’t report any contributions to the Federal Election Commission.
Dolton pastor Anthony Williams managed to nab 3% of support in the poll despite a dearth of campaign cash and almost no online presence for his campaign, which aims to highlight gun violence.
Geneva financial planner Robert “Bobby” Piton was backed by 2% of poll respondents. Piton has raised more than $168,000 for his campaign, which is endorsed by Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI but was later pardoned by Trump. Piton is calling for a “full nationwide audit of the 2020 elections.”
Nabbing 1% each — or about seven favorable poll responses apiece — were Lake Forest real estate manager Casey Chlebek, who also ran for the Senate in 2020 and has put almost $130,000 into his latest campaign; and Jimmy Lee Tillman II, a past congressional candidate and the son of former Chicago Ald. Dorothy Tillman.
Mitchell Armentrout covers politics for the Chicago Sun-Times.