QUINCY – Former President Donald Trump came to west-central Illinois Saturday to deliver his “complete and total endorsement” for state Sen. Darren Bailey, giving the ultraconservative downstate lawmaker gold-plated momentum heading into Tuesday’s six-way gubernatorial primary.
Trump also reiterated his stamp of approval for “ultra-MAGA” downstate Republican U.S. Rep. Mary Miller in her closely watched primary against fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, who alienated the ex-president with his vote in favor of establishing a January 6th Congressional panel.
Miller, however, committed what appeared to be a major racially-charged gaffe when she credited Trump for Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down abortion rights, and referred to a “victory for white life,” as well as an earlier court decision all but eliminating state regulations on carrying concealed weapons.
“President Trump on behalf of all the MAGA patriots in America, I want to thank you for the historic victory for white life in the Supreme Court yesterday,” Miller said. “Our victories for life and the Second Amendment would never have been possible if the never Trump RINOs had gotten their way.”
Her campaign told NBC News that she misread her speech. Miller previously angered many in a speech before the January 6th insurrection when she referenced Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany’s indoctrination of children in a speech.
During Trump’s roughly hour-long, thunderstorm-shortened speech, the former president was typical Trump, airing his false grievance about the “rigged” 2020 presidential election that he lost, jabbing at President Joe Biden’s handling of the inflation-savaged economy and rejoicing at Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the 49-year-old Roe v Wade abortion-rights case.
But the biggest Illinois-centric news to come from Trump’s rally was his decision to finally make a splash in the state’s gubernatorial primary three days ahead of the election, where Bailey appears to be holding a commanding lead.
Trump’s endorsement follows Bailey’s rise in polls
A WBEZ/Chicago Sun-Times poll earlier this month showed Bailey with a 15 percentage point lead over Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin and a 21 percentage point lead over downstate venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan. Later polling has shown a similar double-digit advantage for the first-term state senator.
After praising Miller, Trump introduced Bailey as “the next governor of the great state of Illinois,” prompting chants from the crowd of “Bailey, Bailey, Bailey!”
“Darren is just the man to take on and defeat one of the worst governors in America, JB Pritzker. He’s one of the worst,” Trump shouted to applause. “I had to deal with this guy for a long time on COVID. He was as bad as anybody there is. He did a horrible job. He locked everybody in and locked them up. He was a disaster. His numbers are terrible. Everybody’s fleeing your state, OK? This is a disaster, and Darren is the opposite.”
Trump then launched into a seemingly unscripted anecdote involving Bailey when the two were posing for pictures with one another backstage.
“I wanted to say hello because I’m hearing Darren’s really doing a job,” Trump began. “And we’re standing up, and I’m shaking his hand. He said, ‘Sir, you have a hair coming down right in the middle.’ It was coming down. He said, ‘Let me get it, sir.’ And he grabbed it and pulled it out. I said, ‘Oh, that’s terrible. That’s terrible.’ I’m still looking for that hair. He just ripped it out.
“Which tells you a lot about Darren. There’s no games, right? Somebody else would’ve patted it gently back. He ripped it out,” Trump laughed. “That’s going to be one I remember. We’re still searching for that hair.”
The ex-president said Bailey would be tough on crime and cut taxes and described him as “a fighter and…outstanding warrior in the Illinois state Senate, where he’s totally, totally respected by all of them.
“Darren has my complete and total endorsement,” Trump said, throwing the crowd estimated at more than 2,000 people into a delirium at the sweltering fairground.
A beaming Bailey strode onto the stage alongside Trump to another round of “Bailey, Bailey, Bailey” chants.
“Who’s ready to save America? Who’s ready to save Illinois? Who’s ready to support a president who’s going to take this all back for us?” Bailey shouted, with huge applause following each question.
“I’m glad President Trump told the story about his loose hair because here’s the deal. I will not lie to anyone, and I will not let anything go unnoticed,” Bailey said. “And when I see it, I will name it. And when I name it, we will fix it. And we have our work cut out for us in Illinois, friends.
“I made a promise to President Trump. In 2024, Illinois will roll the red carpet out for him because Illinois will be ready for President Trump,” Bailey said.
Bailey had been courting Trump for many weeks, traveling to the ex-president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for a fundraiser with Miller. Trump and Bailey posed for a photo that the gubernatorial candidate quickly posted on his social media.
But he had to wait until Saturday to get Trump’s full-throated response, which could be a game-over development involving Bailey’s five other rivals. A WBEZ/Sun-Times poll shows GOP voters in Illinois overwhelmingly favor Trump.
Reaction to Trump’s endorsement
Sullivan, another GOP candidate, responded to the presidential snub by ridiculing Bailey and the torrent of television ads paid for by Pritzker and the Democratic Governors’ Association that helped vault the state senator into the lead over Irvin. The Democratic ads helped neutralize Irvin’s $50 million in contributions from Chicago hedge fund billionaire Kenneth Griffin.
“Unfortunately, the endorsement that matters the most in this primary has been J.B. Pritzker’s, with tens of millions of dollars spent to fool Republican voters and hand-pick the weakest opponent in November in Darren Bailey,” Sullivan said in a statement.
“This Tuesday, Republican voters aren’t going to be fooled. They know that saving Illinois from the corrupt insiders and lying politicians who have ruined our state takes a real outsider — like President Trump was in 2016 — to win and deliver real change,” Sullivan said.
Before Trump took to the stage Saturday night, Pritzker’s campaign released a video message from the governor, characterizing Trump as “racist, homophobic, xenophobic [and] misogynistic.”
“Whether motivated by ego or downright malice, Donald Trump continues to lie with impunity about the results of the 2020 election,” Pritzker said. “We know that the twice-impeached, disgraced former president is a narcissist who values power over principle and seeks out darkness over light.
“But here in the Land of Lincoln, we support those who are preserving the union, not destroying it. We stand with the people who barred the doors of the Capitol on January 6th — not the ones who were trying to knock them down,” Pritzker said.
“And any candidate who refuses to speak out against Trump’s big lie has no business running for office,” the governor said. “Not in Illinois.”
Trump praises abortion ruling
License plates from Texas, Missouri, Idaho and other states pulled into the Adams County fairgrounds, one after another alongside plenty of Illinois vehicles.
Bailey and Miller were the only Illinois Republicans on Tuesday’s ballot that Trump singled out. He made no mention of any of the seven Republican U.S. Senate candidates vying to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth this fall.
Almost immediately after taking the stage, Trump made his first public comments about Friday’s historic abortion ruling by the Supreme Court driven by three of his appointees, who all voted to scuttle Roe v. Wade.
“Yesterday, the court handed down a victory for the constitution, a victory for the rule of law and, above all, a victory for life. This breakthrough is the answer to the prayers of millions and millions of people, and these prayers have gone on for decades,” Trump said.
“For decades and decades, they’ve been praying, and now those prayers have been answered to the generations of Americans in the pro-life movement as well as countless constitutional conservatives,” he continued. “Your boundless love, sacrifice and devotion has finally been rewarded in full. Congratulations.”
Alex Degman and Dave McKinney cover Illinois politics and government for WBEZ. Follow them on Twitter @Alex_Degman and @davemckinney.