The campaign for the Republican nomination for Illinois governor is a free-for-all.
The question is: Who wants it?
Several people are testing the waters — some more seriously than others — but no one has been forthcoming in outright declaring their candidacy. No “exploratory committees” have been announced. There is no frontrunner.
And the spoils that await the victor of a Republican gubernatorial primary in March 2022 are a general election campaign against a billionaire incumbent Democrat who has shown a willingness to spare no expense to win, in a state that has twice rejected the GOP’s presidential nominee.
And come election time in 2022, Democrats will have redrawn the boundaries for new legislative districts since they control both the legislative and executive branches of state government.
A spokesman would not answer WBEZ’s questions about whether Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker will seek a second term, saying the governor is focused on handling the pandemic.
But despite all the reasons for doubt, the Illinois GOP sees bright spots that could present opportunities.
That starts with voters soundly rejecting the proposal to move Illinois to a graduated income tax system in which wealthier residents pay a higher tax rate. The policy pitch was a core component of Pritzker’s 2018 campaign.
Add to that a federal corruption investigation that has ensnared the chairman of the state Democratic Party and speaker of the Illinois House, Michael Madigan. Madigan hasn’t been charged, but the scandal threatens his decades-long grip on power.
No fewer than nine people are mulling a gubernatorial campaign for the Republican nomination. And that doesn’t include the radio talk show host who recently left his morning show or the billionaire who largely funded the effort to defeat the graduated income tax.
In alphabetical order, here are the nine:
State Rep. Darren Bailey
Bailey gained notoriety when he sued Pritzker over the governor’s use of executive orders to establish restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The Republican from Xenia, in southern Illinois, was also escorted out of the House of Representatives for refusing to wear a face covering. His obstinance even drew scorn from his fellow House Republicans, and Bailey quietly returned to the House floor with a face covering the next day.
He’s also supported separating Illinois from Chicago — or kicking Chicago out of the state, depending on how you look at it. Come January, Bailey will be a state senator, after winning an uncontested election to the open seat. A spokesman said that Bailey has not made any decisions about running for governor.
State Sen. Jason Barickman
The Bloomington lawmaker has spent nearly a decade in Springfield, and while he is a loyal Republican, he is perhaps best known for his votes on high-profile legislation that have not been in line with his fellow GOP lawmakers.
Barickman was the only Republican state senator to vote in favor of the 2013 bill that legalized same-sex marriage in Illinois. He was also one of the few Republicans to support the legalization of cannabis in the state.
“I’ve been encouraged by numerous people across the state to run for governor,” Barickman told WBEZ. “It’s not something I sought out to do. I have a young family which is my first consideration but I’m doing my due diligence in response to the encouragement that’s been made of me.”
State Sen. Bill Brady
While it’s not clear Brady is taking a look at running for Illinois governor in 2022, he left the possibility open that he would be seeking another office when he left his role as Senate Minority Leader at the capitol.
“When I was elected leader, I said that I would not pursue any other elected office during my leadership of the caucus,” he wrote in a memo to Senate Republicans announcing he would not serve another term as leader.
Brady later resigned from the Illinois State Senate altogether on Dec. 31.
“I look forward to future avenues that will allow me the opportunity to serve the people of Illinois,” he wrote in his resignation letter.
If Brady does run for governor, it would be his fourth campaign for the office. He lost Republican primaries in 2006 and 2014, and lost to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in the 2010 general election.
A Brady spokesman would only say that the Bloomington senator “is interested in working on the critical issues facing Illinois.”
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis
The Republican from Taylorville, just south of Springfield, has retained his seat in Congress in spite of several tough re-election campaigns against formidable Democratic opponents.
One factor that could come into play for both Davis and U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger is what their legislative districts will look like in 2022, given that Illinois is expected to lose at least one congressional seat due to a declining population.
If Democrats draw an unfriendly district for Davis, he could run statewide rather than fight to keep his central Illinois seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Many of the Republicans on this list took some shots at Pritzker for this story. Davis, however, was the by far the most aggressive, calling Pritkzer’s tenure as governor an “unmitigated disaster.”
He went on to say, “The political reality is that my continued service in Congress is at the mercy of Speaker Madigan, [Illinois Senate] President [Don] Harmon, and Governor Pritzker because of our state’s system of partisan gerrymandering.”
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger
Kinzinger has recently become most well-known outside of Illinois as a critic of President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn November’s election results. He’s also a Republican who has spoken out repeatedly against the conspiracy theories that are starting to define at least a cohort of his party.
While his combative tone against the discredited QAnon conspiracy and Trump himself may hurt him with some voters, his frequent calls to #RestoreOurGOP could help the Air Force veteran in a state where Trump earned just 40% of the vote in November.
A spokeswoman would not comment about Kinzinger’s political plans, but multiple GOP sources said he is considering a run.
Despite having never run for political office himself, Porter is no stranger to the Illinois Republican Party. The corporate attorney has for years represented the party on the national stage, serving as the Illinois National Committeeman for the Republican National Committee. Though his role within the party has traditionally been to advocate for the Illinois GOP, Porter joked that he may have to be an adversary against his fellow candidates if he chooses to run.
Owner of The Rabine Group — a company that does outdoor work such as paving, roofing and snow removal — Rabine is one of the wealthiest Republicans considering a run for Illinois governor. He’s supported many GOP candidates in the past, contributing to former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s 2014 campaign and then giving to conservative former State Rep. Jeanne Ives’ 2018 failed primary against Rauner.
Rabine could not be reached for comment, though multiple people told WBEZ Rabine is considering a run.
As co-owner of the Chicago Cubs with his family, Ricketts represents one of the most recognizable names on the list of potential candidates.
He also served as Republican National Committee Finance Chairman during Trump’s presidency, even after the president appeared to criticize the Ricketts when the family’s matriarch opposed Trump.
While he could likely fund his own campaign if he wanted to, Todd Ricketts could face a bruising campaign in part related to some controversial leaked family emails — though that hasn’t stopped his brother, Pete, from governing Nebraska.
A spokesman for Todd Ricketts did not comment, though multiple sources confirmed Ricketts is at least considering a run for governor.
State Sen. Paul Schimpf
The Waterloo Republican chose not to seek re-election to his seat in the Illinois senate, leaving it open as to whether he would run for higher office.
Schimpf, who lost a 2014 bid for Illinois Attorney General, is a retired Marine and attorney who helped prosecute Saddam Hussein. In the senate, he was the lead Republican on the Veterans Affairs committee that investigated multiple Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy.
Schimpf would not comment on a possible gubernatorial run. Multiple Republicans told WBEZ Schimpf is taking a look at running.
Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.