Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Republican challenger Darren Bailey squared off in an often-heated debate on Tuesday night, sparring over everything from crime to abortion as they vie for votes just three weeks before the general election.
Both candidates were fiercely critical of their opponent, trading blows and often arguing over each other in several heated exchanges.
Bailey, who has repeatedly called the city of Chicago a “hellhole,” chose a new tactic during Tuesday’s debate.
“Chicago is the nightmare called ‘Pritzkerville,’ and it’s still two weeks from Halloween,” he said. “I’m going to call it ‘Pritzkerville’ because every one of Governor Pritzker’s extreme policies are destroying this city.”
While murders are down by 17% over last year, and shootings are down by 20%, other crimes are increasing dramatically, with motor vehicle theft up by nearly 80% over last year nad theft up by 79%. Criminal sexual assault in Chicago is up by 25% over the last two years, according to the latest statistics released by the Chicago Police Department.
Pritzker returned fire, arguing that Bailey’s criticism of his policies aren’t coupled with policies of his own.
“Darren Bailey just showed you that he has no plans to address crime in Chicago,” he said. “He wants to throw Chicago out of Illinois, calls it a hellhole.”
Bailey introduced a House resolution in 2019 calling for Congress to make the city of Chicago its own state, but says he no longer supports such a move.
Pritzker says that his administration has taken concrete actions to try to curb violence in Chicago, saying that the COVID pandemic has made that job more difficult.
“I’m the first governor in literally nine years to actually fund the gang crime witness-protection program, because we need to fight against gangs,” he said. “If you want to reduce crime, you’ve got to solve crime.”
The candidates also traded barbs over immigration policy, as thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers have arrived in Chicago on buses from Texas in recent weeks.
“We need to get rid of this sanctuary state status, so law enforcement can do their job and start reining this gang activity in,” Bailey said. “We need to deal with our southern border and we need to get that under control and stop the inflow of illegal activity.”
The city of Chicago’s “sanctuary city” policy has made it a target of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has ordered migrants to be bused here, as well as New York and Washington, D.C.
Pritzker has declared a state of emergency, activating 75 members of the Illinois National Guard to provide state resources to asylum seekers.
He did not push back on Bailey’s comments linking immigrants to crime. However, numerous studies have been conducted on the topic, with The Marshall Project among those that have not found a link between undocumented immigrants and increases in crime.
Pritzker went on the offensive on the topic of abortion, blasting his opponent’s views on the subject and continuing to argue that he would defend abortion access for women in Illinois.
“We’ve got to make sure Illinois is a haven for women all across our state so that they can exercise those rights,” Pritzker said.
Bailey, who has said in the past that he would favor a ban on abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, says that with a likely supermajority for Democrats in the House and Senate, that he would not be able to enact any policies on the subject.
“You can’t do that by executive order. I can’t do anything about it in today’s climate,” he said.
Finally, Bailey repeated his challenge to Pritzker to sign a pledge stating that he would not run for president in 2024, and that he would serve out a full second term as governor. Pritzker, who has largely remained mum on the subject of a run for higher office, once again demurred, calling the pledge a “stunt.”