Republican debate: Irvin goes on defense against Bailey, other rivals

Republican gubernatorial candidate Richard Irvin defended himself Thursday evening against primary rivals he said were “threatened” by his frontrunner status — while chief adversary Darren Bailey grinned broadly as he alternately lobbed attacks and tried to paint himself as a friendly farmer who “is actually going to tell the truth.”

“You should not become governor,” Bailey told Irvin, who responded by saying he wouldn’t be “lectured” by the downstate state senator.

It was the first debate featuring all six Republicans, although venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan joined remotely after testing positive for COVID-19.

The ABC 7 debate also provided the first chance for Republican primary voters to see Bailey and Irvin go head-to-head — after the millions of dollars in television ads the two presumptive GOP frontrunners are running to attack each other.

Hazel Crest attorney Max Solomon, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf and businessman Gary Rabine rounded out the crowded stage.

Irvin frequently answered questions about some of the state’s biggest problems by pinning the blame on Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker — looking a bit ahead to the man he’s hoping to face in November. It was an attempt to bypass the noise of the five Republican opponents that he has vastly overspent with the help of $50 million in campaign contributions from billionaire Ken Griffin.

From left, top row: State Sen. Darren Bailey, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, State Sen. Paul Schimpf. Bottom row, left to right, attorney Max Solomon, Petersburg venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan and Bull Valley businessman Gary Rabine.

Irvin also repeatedly mentioned his five-year tenure as Aurora mayor as proof that he could handle everything from fighting crime to reducing property taxes to bipartisanship.

And while Bailey in a debate last week called Chicago “a crime-ridden, corrupt, dysfunctional hellhole,” the southern Illinois lawmaker — who once supported a resolution to separate Chicago from the rest of the state — was a tad less divisive this time around .

Bailey mentioned last week’s “hellhole” remark with a reference to Joseph Kromelis, the homeless person known as “Walking Man,” who was set on fire under Wacker Drive last week.

“You want to know what happened within hours after I made that statement? A homeless man was burned alive and is fighting for his life today,” Bailey said. “Mayor Lightfoot, Gov. Pritzker, Kim Foxx and their woke anti-police policies, they are responsible for this.

“And we are going to restore Chicago. Somebody’s got to tell the truth. I said it, and when I’m elected as governor, I’ll fix the problem and we will restore the greatness to Chicago.”

Joseph Kromelis, known as the “Walking Man,

Joseph Kromelis, known as the “Walking Man,” in the Loop in 2011.

Sullivan — who called himself the outsider candidate — was the first to go after Irvin, claiming the Aurora mayor stood alongside Pritzker in supporting lockdowns and mandates during the pandemic.

Bailey frequently interrupted Irvin and the others as they spoke. At one point, during a question about mandates, Bailey turned to Irvin and told him he shouldn’t be elected governor because he’s a “Democrat” and a “corrupt Democrat.”

“I won’t be lectured by someone like Darren Bailey who had a mask mandate on his own farm,” Irvin shot back.

But Irvin continued to dive and dodge questions about abortion, saying he wouldn’t comment on the leaked US Supreme Court draft opinion that could signal the overturning of Roe v. Wade. He instead offered that he’s “pro-life” and would work to overturn the state’s parental notification law.

Republican Paul Schimpf speaks to reporters after Thursday's gubernatorial debate.

Republican Paul Schimpf speaks to reporters after Thursday’s gubernatorial debate.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Schimpf, a former military lawyer, accused Irvin of creating divisions within the Republican Party, urging him to instead act as a unifier with the millions in donations he’s received from Griffin, the state’s richest person.

“I’m glad you have those resources. I just wish you were using them to unify our party, rather than divide our party right now,” Schimpf said. “We can work with Democrats because there is a lot that unites us.”

Facing criticism from a number of his GOP rivals, Irvin accused them of being “threatened by the fact that I am violating their political aspirations.”

“Democrats want to get a fish. They want to give handouts. We don’t need handouts. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. I don’t have to get handouts,” Irvin said. “The reason JB Pritzker supported Darren Bailey is because he knows Darren Bailey can’t win.”

Republican Max Solomon answers reporters' questions after Thursday's gubernatorial debate.

Republican Max Solomon answers reporters’ questions after Thursday’s gubernatorial debate.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Solomon, who has tried to prove he’s the most far right candidate running, called himself a “Christian conservative Republican,” who would ensure all schools would be staffed with armed guards and would leave all decisions about the pandemic in the hands of Illinois residents.

Rabine used his closing statement to sum up the race — and diminish his rivals by citing both purported strengths and weaknesses.

Bull Valley businessman Gary Rabine talks to reporters after the debate.

Bull Valley businessman Gary Rabine talks to reporters after the debate.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“If you want a farmer to lead the state, Darren’s your guy. If this is a beauty contest… Jesse wins by a landslide. If you want a Democrat to lead the Republican Party, Richard is your guy,” the Bull Valley businessman said.

“It’s time we elect a governor who has turned around businesses and understands what it’s like to turn things around,” Rabine said.

The debate, in partnership with the League of Women Voters of Illinois and Univision Chicago, was streamed live on ABC 7’s website and other streaming platforms, but will air on ABC 7 on Friday night at 10:35 pm

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