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Illinois

Biden visits Illinois as Democrats worry about GOP surge

Politicians fanned out across the state in the final weekend of the 2022 general election campaign, with President Joe Biden speaking in Joliet on Saturday amid concerns that a Republican surge on Election Day could cost Democrats control of both the Illinois political agenda and and over Congress.

Biden’s decision to visit what has been a reliably blue state, along with Vice President Kamala Harris’ planned trip to Chicago on Sunday, underscored the belief that the race has tightened ahead of Tuesday’s election.

On Saturday, Biden campaigned for Rep. Lauren Underwood of Naperville in Joliet, Gov. J. Pritzker campaigned for fellow Democrats in Arlington Heights and Gurney, and GOP gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey made stops in Bloomington and Rock Island, all urging supporters to turn out at the polls after campaigns filled with resentment and emotion.

Democrats are grappling with the headwinds of an inflationary economy, but Biden sought to be upbeat during a Friday night fundraiser in Rosemont for Underwood and Rep. Sean Kasten of Downers Grove, who is being challenged by Republican Keith Pekaw, the mayor of Orland Park.

“Folks, I don’t believe we’re in trouble,” Biden said. “I think we will win. I really do.”

But he quickly added, “If we lose the House and the Senate, it’s going to be a terrible two years. The good news is that I will have veto power.’

Biden’s latest speech used a recurring theme during stops in California, New York and Pennsylvania, warning that Republicans will try to cut Social Security and Medicare if they take control of the House and Senate.

“These programs do something so basic, but so important,” he told about 300 people in the gym at Jones Elementary School in Joliet on Saturday. “After working hard for decades, people deserve to retire … with dignity.”

Citing statements from Republican senators Rick Scott of Florida and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Biden said the GOP wants Social Security and Medicare to face a reauthorization vote every five years, leaving longstanding programs for the elderly permanently vulnerable to liquidation.

“It’s a robust guarantee and a tough commitment,” Biden said of Social Security. “Generations of Americans have relied on this for decades, and it’s working.”

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is poised to become House speaker if the GOP takes control, said during a campaign rally in Oak Brook on Friday that his party would only seek to “preserve and strengthen” Social Security and that Democrats’ claims The GOP is rallying after the benefit programs were a lie.

In Joliet, Biden touted Underwood’s support for anti-pandemic and anti-inflation programs. He also drew attention to some of the signs waved by protesters and supporters of former President Donald Trump who greeted the presidential entourage outside the school.

“I like these signs when I came – ‘Socialism.’ Give me a break. What idiots,” said the president.

Underwood’s GOP challenger, Scott Grider of Oswego, who attended the rally next door, criticized the president’s comment as “offensive” and called it “insulting.”

Pritzker also projected optimism during a trip to the suburbs Saturday, meeting with Democrats in the Arlington Heights offices of state Sen. Ann Gillespie and Rep. Mark Walker.

“I think our Democrats are going to do very well here in Illinois. As you know, this is very important to me,” Pritzker told the journalist. “I think Tuesday night is going to be a good night for Democrats here in Illinois, and I hope for the nation.”

Pritzker’s campaign on Thursday reported giving $1 million to the Illinois Democratic Party, bringing his total contributions to the state party this year to $11.5 million. That’s more than four times the nearly $3.2 million he donated in 2018.

Meanwhile, the party said it spent more than $10 million on Pritzker’s campaign this year, mostly on mailings.

Governor J.  B. Pritzker greets supporters during a campaign event at the campaign office of Sen. Ann Gillespie with Gillespie and Rep. Mark Walker on Nov. 5, 2022, in Arlington Heights.

Addressing the crowd, Pritzker highlighted his administration’s achievements in increasing education funding. After noticing a roomful of volunteers from the anti-gun group Moms demanding action, he reiterated his vow to ban automatic weapons in the state.

Pritzker ended by asking the audience, “Is everyone ready for battle?” — a line that drew loud cheers, as it often did during speeches during his two gubernatorial campaigns.

After shaking hands and taking photos, Pritzker said his words were a call to political action, not violence. Both Pritzker and his opponent, Bailey, were threatened.

“However, there’s a big difference between campaign rhetoric that says, ‘Are you willing to go fight for what you believe in and stand up for a woman’s right to choose and ban firearms?’ and literally inciting people to do things that could end up being violent,” Pritzker said.

The governor said that “the rise of this kind of hyper-polarized, negative rhetoric, laced with calls for people to maybe take physical action,” began when Trump announced his 2015 presidential bid.

“And it’s been growing ever since. This is a terrible development of American politics,” said Pritzker.

“Campaigns have always been about getting the crowd going and making sure people know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, right? But we keep talking about the elections,” he said. “But overall, we have to tone down the rhetoric.”

In Bloomington, Bailey, the Xenia state senator and farmer whose campaign has leaned heavily on his evangelical, charismatic Christian faith, mingled with a few dozen supporters and patrons at Denny’s Donuts and Bakery.

As the event drew to a close, a campaign aide asked the crowd to pray for Bailey in light of uncertain actions on the campaign trail over the past few weeks. “Obviously, this is spiritual warfare,” said aide David Paul Blumenschein.

“There are those who are going to oppose us. Obviously, we know that. So I’d like to lift up Darren in prayer very quickly,” Blumenschein said.

Blumenschein led the “Stop Theft” bus tour that took place during Trump’s Jan. 6 speech in Washington, D.C., and marched to the U.S. Capitol, where Trump supporters tried to block the Electoral College from declaring Biden a victory. Blumenschein said he did not enter the Capitol grounds.

Speaking to the crowd at the bakery, Bailey accused Pritzker of receiving a death threat against him from a 21-year-old Chicago man who was arrested last week. Prosecutors said the man became enraged after seeing a political ad on TV at the bar, but did not specify what.

Bailey said the suspect “watched some of the false, misleading and divisive ads.”

Bailey decried inflation, high taxes, dangerous streets, and poor school performance, all of which he blamed on Pritzker. Despite the fact that his agriculture and trucking are worth millions of dollars, he has repeatedly tried to pass himself off as a simple farmer in a state that is fighting against Chicago’s “billionaire” elite, of which the governor is a member.

“The billionaire political class has sold out the working class for the last eight years,” Bailey said, referring to both Pritzker and his predecessor, one-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Bailey spoke to the crowd about how his “movement” is moving away from “fatties and billionaires” and more about “people having to do whatever it takes to survive here in Illinois.”

“This is about you and all the forgotten communities in this state,” Bailey said. “This is about the police officers who work the graveyard shift keeping our communities safe while you and I sleep. It’s about teachers who stay after class to help their students achieve their goals. It’s about builders building skyscrapers where billionaires like Pritzker… look down on us.”

Bailey has been living in downtown Chicago in recent weeks after calling the city a “hellhole.”

“City people expect you to judge cocktails and have billions of dollars in offshore accounts so you can run for governor. Well, if you haven’t figured it out, it’s not me,” Bailey said.

“The only relationship some people have with farmers is the nursery rhyme about ‘Old Macdonald.’ And J. B. Pritzker is definitely trying to paint me as a terrible farmer,” he said.

Bailey was then asked about a complaint filed Friday by the Illinois Democratic Party alleging his campaign illegally colluded with a conservative radio talk show host who runs a political action committee supporting Bailey’s campaign.

The People Who Play By The Rules PAC, led by Dan Proft of Naples, Fla., is an independent spending PAC prohibited by law from coordinating spending with Bailey’s campaign.

“They are not true,” Bailey said of the conspiracy allegations. “You know we can’t, we haven’t talked to any of these people since before the primary. So absolutely not.”

Bailey was a guest on Proft’s morning radio show as recently as September when Proft spoke to the candidate about his PAC’s multimillion-dollar endorsement.

jsheridan@chicagotribune.com

dpetrella@chicagotribune.com

jgorner@chicagotribune.com

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