Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker stirred political intrigue this summer with signals he was mulling a run for president in 2024, but Illinois voters appear to have some free, blunt advice for him: Don’t do it.
That’s the unmistakable takeaway from a new WBEZ/Chicago Sun-Times Poll that asked if the first-term billionaire chief executive ought to consider setting his sights on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the upcoming presidential election.
It would be a big step for Illinois’ incumbent Democratic governor, who, if successful, would join the state’s own Mount Rushmore of presidents with roots here, including Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Grant, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.
But Illinois voters aren’t getting out their chisels.
Two-thirds said Pritzker shouldn’t get involved in presidential campaigning two years from now, with another 21% saying they weren’t sure. Only 13% embraced the idea of Pritzker trying to become the second Illinoisan in the past four presidential elections to sit in the Oval Office.
“I think there’s an apprehensiveness that comes when a sitting governor or a sitting senator of a state is looking toward possibly making a move toward national office,” said Jim Williams, an analyst with Public Policy Polling, the North Carolina firm that conducted the new general election poll.
“People are worried that they’re going to start leaving them behind, maybe start to pay a little bit less attention to doing their job that they’ve been elected to do in the state,” Williams said.
Focus on Pritzker’s interest in a presidential run seems to have cooled since he made appearances in June and July before Democratic gatherings in both New Hampshire and Florida. Pritzker’s speeches in the two battleground states were widely interpreted as signs he might be testing the presidential waters.
Underpinning that maneuvering was President Joe Biden’s unpopularity in national tracking polls.
Illinois voters aren’t as sour on Biden as others across the nation, but they are just as unenthusiastic about another four years of the Delaware Democrat as they are about Pritzker making a run for the White House.
In the WBEZ/Sun-Times Poll, 63% of Illinois voters said they didn’t think Biden should run for reelection two years from now, while another 18% were unsure. Only 19% said they favored Biden for a second term.
The survey of 770 likely voters in Illinois was conducted by Public Policy Polling last Monday and Tuesday. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Of those polled, 38% were Democrats, 32% were Republicans and 30% said they were independents.
Biden’s dismal poll numbers have fueled a persistent push from within the Democratic Party for potential alternatives to Biden in 2024, but Pritzker has said repeatedly that he would not mount a presidential campaign if Biden sought another term.
While Biden has seen his favorability numbers tick higher this past summer as gasoline prices dropped and investigations into former President Donald Trump intensified, Biden still is “underwater” nationally, meaning polls show more people have unfavorable than favorable views of him.
A tracking poll Thursday by Reuters/Ipsos found Biden’s unfavourability numbers were 15 percentage points greater than his favorability ratings.
While voters in deep-blue Illinois have strong opinions about Biden’s future, they offered sort of a meh reaction when asked to judge the incumbent president.
The WBEZ/Sun-Times Poll found that 46% of respondents viewed Biden favorably while 47% viewed him unfavorably, with 7% unsure. It’s an improvement from the national numbers — but hardly a ringing endorsement.
All of that said, if the soon-to-be octogenarian decides to rev up his political engines again, voters in Illinois said they’d be willing to support him — or Pritzker — if either is pitted against Trump.
Biden was leading Trump among Illinois voters, 51% to 42%, with 7% undecided.
Those numbers are identical if Pritzker secured the Democratic nomination. In a potential matchup with Trump, 51% of Illinois voters would favor the incumbent Illinois governor compared to 42% for Trump, with 7% undecided.
Trump’s standing in Illinois is markedly worse than Biden’s.
The poll found that 57% had an unfavorable view of the ex-president, who is facing multiple federal and state criminal and civil investigations linked to the Jan. 6 insurrection, his storage of top-secret government documents at his Florida estate and possible fraud related to his business interests.
Only 34% of Illinoisans have a favorable view of Trump with 9% unsure, the poll found.
Back in June, a WBEZ/Sun-Times Poll of likely Republican primary voters found 86% viewed Trump favorably. A majority said they’d be more likely to vote for candidates for other offices who had supported him in the past. And just over half of the state’s GOP voters polled chose Trump as their choice in a theoretical 2024 Republican primary.
This time around — in a poll that included Democrats, Republicans and independents — Pritzker’s favorability ratings, while better than Trump’s, are on par with Biden’s. The governor appears to be treading water politically, with 46% holding a favorable view of him and 46% having an unfavorable view of him. Nine percent were unsure on that question.
While some poll respondents interviewed by WBEZ and the Sun-Times expressed support for Pritzker’s reelection bid against Republican Darren Bailey, they weren’t convinced the governor has what it takes to be president.
“I find the notion that he’s thinking of running for president somewhat silly,” said 71-year-old Oak Park retiree Gary Schwab, who identifies as a Democratic socialist.
“I don’t think Pritzker’s qualification, which is that he and his family made billions and billions of dollars essentially peddling … mostly overseas tax shelters, qualifies him to be president,” Schwab said. “He may have foreign policy experience, but that is basically in dealing with similar oligarchs in other places.”
Northwest suburban Gilberts resident Rachel Roth, a Democrat who favors Pritzker’s reelection as governor, said she would consider Pritzker for president — but only if a direct challenge to Biden wasn’t also involved.
But she’s unclear whether the 57-year-old governor displays all of the characteristics her party must have in a top-of-the-ticket candidate nationally.
“The Democratic Party needs to find younger, more exuberant and in touch, … wide-reaching leadership. I’m not sure if Gov. Pritzker fits that description or not,” she said. “That’s one of the biggest things that the Democratic Party has struggled with. I mean, clearly, President Biden was the candidate who rose to the top for many reasons, but one of them was definitely not because he’s on the younger side of the list of candidates in 2020.”
In national polling, Pritzker hasn’t really registered on the presidential playing field. A joint Morning Consult/Politico national tracking poll in late September had Illinois’ governor in a tie for 11th place among favored Democrats if Biden doesn’t run.
Pritzker got only paltry support: 1%. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Vice President Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar all fared better than Pritzker in the poll.
Pritzker’s leadership during the pandemic and his push for abortion rights have also put him in a national spotlight. It’s early, but some Democrats want Pritzker to run because of his ability to self-fund — and because of his hefty contributions to Democrats.
A WBEZ/Sun-Times analysis of state and federal campaign finance data found Pritzker contributing at least $3.75 million during this election cycle to Democratic political committees and to gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates around the country.
Some of the larger recipients include the Democratic Governors Association’s Victory Fund ($2.25 million), the Democratic Party of Wisconsin ($500,000), Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ($250,000), the Democratic National Committee ($250,000) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ($255,500), campaign records show.
Other beneficiaries of Pritzker money include U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-FL, who is running for Senate ($26,600); and U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH ($26,600). The governor also gave $10,000 apiece to Democratic state party organizations in Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Even if all of those contributions didn’t give Pritzker traction as a presidential contender, it hasn’t stopped him from getting hit for potentially having his eye on a bigger political prize during this fall’s gubernatorial campaign.
During a televised debate last week, Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey tried to score political points by seeking to pin Pritzker down on his future plans.
Bailey vowed he wouldn’t seek another political office during a full term as governor if elected and then turned to the governor.
“Any response? Are you going to run for president?” Bailey taunted.
The debate’s co-host then posed that question to Pritzker himself.
The governor answered tersely.
“I intend to serve four years more as governor, get reelected and I intend to support the president,” Pritzker said. “He’s running for reelection.”
Dave McKinney and Tina Sfondeles cover Illinois politics and government. Follow them on Twitter @davemckinney and @TinaSfon.