(Bloomberg) -- Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and Republican challenger Darren Bailey repeatedly clashed on matters such as the state’s business climate, taxes and crime in their first televised debate, underscoring the stark choice voters have in November.
The heated exchanges between the incumbent, a billionaire Democrat seeking a second term, and a conservative farmer from southern Illinois reflected the culture wars raging in the US ahead of the midterms. Pritzker emphasized the state’s financial improvements, a $1.8 billion tax relief package for residents and his support for reproductive rights.
In turn, Bailey criticized the state’s laws providing access to abortion, criminal justice reform and financial woes such as underfunded pensions.
“I’m proud of what we’ve achieved over the last four years,” Pritzker, one of 16 Democratic governors up for re-election in 2022, said during an hour-long debate at Illinois State University in Normal. “I look forward to getting even more big things done for the people of our state.”
During the debate, Pritzker touted the multiple credit upgrades for the state, still the lowest rated, in his tenure. Bailey, a state senator, highlighted recent corporate departures from Illinois and said he supports repealing a package of criminal justice reforms enacted in 2021, including the move to a no-cash bail system scheduled to start next year.
Bailey said the state is getting “crushed” from property taxes, challenges in education and crime.
“This guy has had four years,” Bailey said. “We should be better off today, and we’re not.”
Pritzker holds a sizable lead over Bailey, with 51% of Illinois voters supporting the governor for re-election, according to a September poll by Emerson College Polling/WGN-TV/The Hill. Thirty-six percent support Bailey, who garnered former President Donald Trump’s endorsement before winning the Republican primary in June.
The governor, who has tapped his own fortune to fund his campaign, has booked $22 million in advertising since the June primary, compared with $17.1 million by a state-level super PAC that backs Bailey, according to AdImpact, which tracks political spending.
The GOP candidate has raised just $1.7 million since June 30, according to state campaign finance records, and has spent little on ads. Instead, Bailey is getting his message across by relying on People Who Play by the Rules PAC, a group funded with $28.1 million from Richard Uihlein, a mega donor for conservative Republicans.
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