The fundraising frontrunner among Republicans in the Illinois governor’s race repeatedly dodged questions Monday about his stance on a possible national abortion ban and whether he voted for former President Donald Trump or would support him for reelection in 2024.
In a rare appearance before reporters, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin obfuscated on what undoubtedly are red-meat issues for a sizable swath of anti-abortion, pro-Trump Republican primary voters, giving rivals in the June 28 primary an opening for renewed attacks.
Irvin’s event in Aurora was originally planned to focus on a state audit last week that questioned how Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration handled a fatal COVID-19 outbreak that killed three dozen residents of the state-run LaSalle Veterans’ Home in 2020.
Instead, the focus wound up being on Irvin’s non-answers, including whether he would favor a national ban on abortion as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has floated after the leak of a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that appeared to set the stage for a repeal of Roe v. Wade.
“I’m pro-life. But what we’re talking about the issue today is this draft document that is just a draft leaked document in and of itself …,” Irvin said before being interrupted by a reporter pressing about his stance on McConnell’s statement.
“Hold on one second, hold on one second, hold on,” Irvin said. “I can’t talk about Mitch McConnell and what he said and the national thing. … I’m running for governor of the state of Illinois. I’m not talking about what the federal government’s going to do … and what we’re talking about today is the extreme things that JB Pritzker’s doing.”
While never giving a coherent answer on a national abortion ban, Irvin called Pritzker’s repeal last December of the state’s parental notification law for minors seeking abortions “abhorrent” and said he’s hearing from voters that the law needs to be reinstated.
Irvin did not articulate whether, as governor, he would spearhead a push to reinstate the parental notification law. He did say he supports abortion rights in cases of “rape, incest and health and life of the mother.”
The Aurora mayor also dodged, as he has in the past, questions about whether he has voted for Trump or would support him as the GOP nominee for president in 2024. A city of Aurora Facebook post bearing Irvin’s name congratulated President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in January 2021 for their “historic election.”
“That’s exactly what JB Pritzker wants all of [us] to be talking about. He wants to be talking about anything other than his failures and his record and how my successes as mayor of the city of Aurora trump his failures as a state,” Irvin said to a question about Trump.
Irvin was then pressed on how he has attacked GOP rivals for pulling Democratic primary ballots when he has done so, as well, and now won’t indicate his past or future support of Trump.
“Let’s talk about records for a second. As a matter of fact, campaigns are about records. As I pointed out, JB Pritzker and my opponents on the Republican side were attacking me and my record even before I formally announced. But I’m not going to fall into the trap of JB Pritzker,” Irvin said. “I’m not going to fall into the trap of JB Pritzker talking about what he thinks we should be talking about in this campaign. We should be talking about his failures as governor.”
Irvin has received a staggering $45 million in contributions from Chicago hedge fund tycoon and GOP megadonor Kenneth Griffin, who has said he doesn’t intend to support Trump in 2024. Griffin’s support has left Irvin with a political bank account exponentially larger than anyone else in the six-way Republican gubernatorial primary.
Irvin’s lack of answers Monday was met with criticism from some of his Republican opponents, including state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, who has accused the Aurora mayor of hiding in his “basement” to avoid public debates. State campaign records show Bailey’s political fund had nearly $901,000 as of March 31.
“A lot of script reading & nervous dipping and dodging from the Irvin basement today,” Bailey tweeted on his campaign’s Twitter account. “Why did it take him several days to face the public? We need a governor with the courage to lead and the integrity to tell the truth. I’m the only proven conservative leader in this race.”
Meanwhile, on the day’s main advertised event, Irvin said he “absolutely” believed there was criminal negligence in the way the Pritzker administration handled the LaSalle Veterans’ Home COVID-19 outbreak.
“What we’re talking about today rises to the level of negligence where somebody has to be held responsible for the deaths of our 36, 36, 36 heroes that could have been prevented and avoided, deaths but for JB Pritzker’s failure to act…could be alive today,” Irvin said.
Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics and government for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @davemckinney.