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The 2018 race for Illinois governor could be the most expensive in U.S. history. With nine months until election day, the five leading candidates have raised more than $136 million, already exceeding any other contest before in Illinois. Democrat J.B. Pritzker has spent over $34 million of his $49 million campaign chest in an attempt to win the Democratic nomination. And a once sleepy Republican race has seen shifting alliances in recent weeks, after billionaire Dick Uihlein gave $2.5 million to Gov. Bruce Rauner's challenger, Illinois House Rep. Jeanne Ives, who opposes abortion and rights for gay and transgender people.To track this money circus, ProPublica Illinois has created a graphic that will update with the latest fundraising information.

Gubernatorial Candidates Seek Cook County Democrats' Support

From left: J.B. Pritzker, Ald. Ameya Pawar, Chris Kennedy, State Sen. Daniel Biss and Bob Daiber.


Five Democratic candidates for governor gathered Thursday in a small conference room in downtown Chicago to explain their strategies and seek a key endorsement for the 2018 general election.

But recent Democratic losses in five special elections around the country have party committeemen wondering how best to take on Republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner. An endorsement from the Cook County Democratic Party would mean support of some of the most powerful elected officials in the area — plus resources, staff and volunteers.

Here’s a breakdown of what the candidates said to party leaders.

Daniel Biss: Taxes and wages are top issues

State Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, focused on taxes, wages and the state’s criminal-justice system. He said the Democratic nominee will be the candidate who can address those issues best.

“We have to be clear in naming that, in explaining that, and explaining the policies that we’re going to enact to lift all people up all across the state of Illinois,” Biss said.

Bob Daiber: Now seeking endorsement

When Bob Daiber, a regional school superintendent in downstate Madison County, addressed the Cook County Democratic Party in March, he acknowledged that he would be a long shot because he didn’t know many people in the room.

“I don’t intend to get Cook County’s endorsement,” he said at the time. “I don’t even know how you could endorse me.”

But Daiber drastically changed his tune Thursday.

“I want to begin this morning with a point of clarification,” Daiber said. “I realize the significance of this endorsement, and I realize what it would bring to my candidacy if you’d consider endorsing me.”

Chris Kennedy: No endorsement needed

Chris Kennedy, the former president of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, proposed that the Cook County Democratic Party not make an endorsement in the primary.

“We need to reaffirm with the electorate that we work for them,” Kennedy said, "that we are servant leaders and not leaders of servants."

Kennedy is a member of the famed political family that has been synonymous with Democratic Party politics for decades. But his campaign for governor has focused on criticizing “political insiders.” He said Thursday that residents won’t agree to pay more in taxes if they don’t believe their government is “squeaky clean.”

Kennedy has criticized Cook County’s property-tax system and assessor Joe Berrios,  without mentioning him by name. Berrios is the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, which led to one committeeman to ask Kennedy why he’s even there to ask for their endorsement.

“I’m here because I love the Democratic Party,” Kennedy said. “I love Illinois and I think, for Illinois to be saved, the Democratic Party has to save it.” 

During a break, Berrios responded to Kennedy’s comments about the party endorsement.

“We have 80 committeemen. Each committeeman has a vote,” Berrios said. “If the candidates want to look for an open primary, as Kennedy may want -- he hasn’t said what he wants to do -- he showed up today to seek our endorsement, but the thing is, he should get on the phone and start talking to committeemen and asking them for an open primary or for their support.”

Ameya Pawar: Party outsider needed

Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar furthered the argument that the Democratic Party needs to make some big internal changes if it wants to beat Rauner. He said nominating a candidate with the most fame or money didn’t work out for Democrats in the presidential race.

“As we’ve learned with Hillary Clinton, and most recently with the special elections, is that strategy fails time and time again,” Pawar said. 

Pawar said the 2018 election is going to be about issues of race and class and, when the focus of the party is on which candidate receives an endorsement, he said the public tunes out.

J.B. Pritzker: Has the resources

Billionaire J.B. Pritzker is considered the Democratic front runner after he received endorsements from labor unions and some elected officials. 

Pritzker said he has the money, television ads and endorsements. He noted that he’s focused his attacks on Rauner, not on other Democratic candidates.

Despite the state’s reputation for electing Democrats statewide, Pritzker said the Illinois Republican Party is still a threat and is flush with millions of dollars from Rauner.

“Our infrastructure as a party -- knocking on doors, getting people out to vote -- has diminished. Theirs has improved,” Pritzker said. “Our communications endeavor across the state has diminished. Theirs has improved. We’ve got to rebuild.”

He also emphasized that Democrats can win with a message focused on shifting the state to a graduated income tax instead of the current flat tax — something Rauner has opposed. Other Democratic candidates for governor also have supported this same policy.


The Others

Three other Democrats said they’re running, though they didn’t address the party: State Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, Tio Hardiman and Alex Paterakis.

There was no endorsement Thursday, and it’s still not clear whether the party will make an endorsement at all.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Hardiman's job title with CeaseFire. The error was WNIJ's, and we have reverted to Tony Arnold's original language. WNIJ regrets the error.