On the final Sunday of the general election season, Illinois Democrats led by Vice President Kamala Harris and Gov. J.B. Pritzker aimed to energize Black voters to get to the polls while Republican governor candidate Darren Bailey promoted the Christian conservatism that is a basis of his campaign.
The visit by Harris — the nation’s first female, first Black and first South Asian American vice president — came one day after President Joe Biden stumped for congressional candidates in the Chicago area as Illinois’ Democratic control of government faces a test from voters on Tuesday.
The Democratic push Sunday came as a political action committee backing Bailey’s candidacy has aired advertising aimed at suppressing turnout from the Black community, a reliably Democratic voting bloc. At the same time, the leader of the PAC has spearheaded sending out political mailings disguised as newspapers to thousands of homes that used photos of predominantly Black criminal suspects to raise the threat of a potential crime wave as a result of a new criminal justice law Pritzker signed.
Harris rallied with Pritzker, other Democratic candidates and a few hundred supporters at a tennis center in Washington Park after appearing with reelection-seeking U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi at a get-out-the-vote event for Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander voters. Harris entered the Washington Park event to gospel singing, prompting her to say, “Thank you for bringing some church in here today.”
Ticking off a list of Democratic accomplishments, including student loan forgiveness, new efforts to keep prescription drug prices in check, infrastructure investments and the appointment of Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, Harris said: “We’ve got a lot of good material.”
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Hitting a point Biden and other Democrats have tried to hammer home in the closing weeks of the campaign, Harris also warned that social safety net programs such as Medicare and Social Security are at stake if Republicans take power in Congress. She also said Pritzker and other Illinois Democrats are needed in office to protect abortion rights here.
“When a democracy is intact, it is extraordinarily strong in the strength it can give its people to protect and fight for their rights, for equality, for justice. Incredibly strong,” she said. “On the other hand, it is incredibly fragile. It is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it. And so fight we will.”
Pritzker noted the Christian school founded by Bailey, a state senator from downstate Xenia, uses controversial curriculum published by conservative Bob Jones University Press.
“The school he founded teaches children that slave masters were good to their slaves and that women are inferior to men. We can’t let him anywhere near the governor’s office,” Pritzker said. “Darren Bailey wants to divide Illinois by handing the state over to the far-right-wing zealots who want to enact a hate-filled agenda.”
Democratic Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who is facing a challenge from GOP attorney Tom DeVore, cited the fake newspapers being sent by the political action committee and contendedthey amounted to fearmongering over Democratic efforts to reform the criminal justice system.
“They’re trying to get us not to vote,” said Raoul, who is Black. “Well, tricks are for kids and Republicans. We’re voting.”
Before Harris’ arrival, both Pritzker and Bailey visited Sunday church services addressing vastly different audiences.
Pritzker and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, who is the first Black woman to hold the office, toured a half dozen predominantly Black churches on Chicago’s South and West sides — a traditional campaign staple for Democrats in the run up to Election Day on Tuesday. Bailey traveled to the far northwest suburbs to speak to a largely white congregation at a wealthy Baptist megachurch.
Bailey, whose evangelical Christian beliefs are a foundation for his campaign, began Sunday delivering a devotional on Facebook Live. He read from a book contending a major source of the country’s moral ills was the absence of church involvement in endorsing candidates and discussing political issues due to the threat of losing their federal tax-exempt status.
“A silent pulpit means a silent pew. A silent pew produces an uninformed electorate and an uninformed electorate will not know what the One who created civil government has to say about how it should be run,” Bailey said in reading from “Well Versed: Biblical Answers to Today’s Tough Issues,” by James Garlow.
Speaking for himself, Bailey said as a result of church silence in politics, “I think you will begin to understand why this great nation is suffering the dilemma that we’re suffering — too much government and not enough informed constituents.”
The Republican candidate continued the theme of church political involvement during an appearance at the Quentin Road Baptist Church in Lake Zurich with his wife, Cindy.
But the pastor of the predominantly white megachurch had no problem with politics.
Pastor Jim Scudder Jr. spoke glowingly of Bailey and even disclosed to several hundred parishioners that he voted for him as he asked for prayers for candidates “who share conservative values.”
“Prayer I think is going to be key to this election and then everyone needs to vote. OK. I’m not saying who to vote for. I voted for Darren already on Monday,” Scudder told the audience. “But you need to make up your mind and look at the issues and find out what lines up the most, especially in areas of faith.”
Cindy Bailey told the parishioners her husband’s campaign represented “a spiritual battle. That’s what really is the bottom dollar here,” adding, “That’s why we are so passionate about the church being informed and educated and being a part of the process.”
Darren Bailey credited the Quentin Road Baptist Church leaders and parishioners for their involvement and “doing what you need to be doing and just getting the message out of how we hang on and restore our constitutional republic.”
“What we can do here could change the course of this nation when we lift our savior up through this process and give him the glory, the honor (and) restore integrity,” Bailey said. “We have a God-given constitutional republic and it’s time that the church stand up and take our freedoms back.”
Around the same time Pritzker, who is Jewish, spoke to the congregation at New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park and drew on the phrase “justice shall you pursue” from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy to connect with the churchgoers.
“When I ran for governor four years ago, that’s why I ran,” Pritzker said. “I ran because it’s important to fight the good fight. And I’m running again because we have to continue to fight that fight.”
He added, “Everything we care about is under siege right now, whether we’re fighting to end systemic racism or to expand health care or to defeat a deadly pandemic.”
Before departing, Pritzker promoted his efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025, which he said benefits Black women more than any other group, as well as increased funding for state police and measures to make health care more affordable, including a cap on insulin costs.
“We’ve got to build on the progress we’ve already made, in civil rights, in voting rights, economic rights, in women’s rights,” Pritzker said. “All these things can be taken away.”
After the governor departed, the Rev. Marshall Hatch Jr. told his congregation that two of the major issues of this election — crime and inflation — have “racial overtones and undertones.
“The constant outcry about crime is really a push for ‘policing and incarceration on steroids,’ while concerns about inflation are driven by the fact that critics think ‘too much’ pandemic aid ‘went to the people that don’t normally get anything,’” Hatch said.
Without mentioning Republicans specifically, Hatch said the candidates who are playing up those issues want to move things “in a direction that is designed to leave us behind.”
Pritzker has dismissed as “racist” the efforts of Dan Proft, the right-wing radio show host who runs the Bailey-aligned People Who Play By the Rules PAC and who is involved in the faux newspaper mailings.
The Proft PAC made a similar accusation about Pritzker in one its latest ads, which seeks to remind Black voters about comments Pritzker made in 2008 during a phone call secretly recorded by federal law enforcement with then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
On the tapes, which the Tribune revealed during the 2018 Democratic primary race for governor, Pritzker called Secretary of State Jesse White the “least offensive” among several Black politicians for appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama’s advancement to the presidency. Pritzker also called then-Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr. “crass” and then-U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. “a nightmare.”
Pritzker has dismissed the attack ad, saying, “People are smarter than that ad.”
Bailey capped the day with a late afternoon rally at Chicago’s Daley Plaza. But reflecting some disorganization, his campaign had to compete for space with the setup for the annual Christkindlmarket event.
The campaign ultimately set up shop under an exterior roof alongside the Dearborn Street entrance of the Daley Center and about five dozen supporters were forced to huddle close to one another to not block the sidewalk from passersby.
“Who’s ready for a safer Chicago?” Bailey shouted as his supporters cheered. “Here’s the deal, we have got to have voter turnout, because we know that J.B.’s supporters are disenfranchised with him and their president, and it is time to show up and take back Illinois and the hard work starts on Wednesday. That’s when we start rebuilding Illinois.”