In what is set to be the most expensive gubernatorial race in history, some candidates for Illinois governor are already suffering due to the high expenditures of their much wealthier opponents.
The race narrowed last month when Chicago’s 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar announced the end of his bid, citing insufficient funding to mount a competitive campaign. In a statement released on his website, Pawar explained that he could not continue to run his campaign without taking on more personal debt or firing staffers.
“Just know that while we didn’t have the most money, we have the volunteers (3,200), the signatures (10,000), and the right message,” Pawar wrote, “I’m sorry for the people who have stood with me that I don’t have the extraordinary wealth or extraordinarily wealthy connections to make up the difference.”
Pawar’s departure is a major indication of candidates with deeper pockets pushing out less wealthy candidates. Billionaire Hyatt heir J.B. Pritzker and multi-millionaire Gov. Bruce Rauner have so far donated tens of millions of dollars to their own campaigns, far exceeding publicly funded candidates. In July, Pritzker alone spent an average of over $100,000 per day, namely on advertisements and campaign mailers.
“[Pawar] prides himself on being an average American,” said SESP sophomore Isabel Dobel, who formerly worked as a planning and advance assistant for the Pawar campaign. “He’s middle class so he takes that privilege into account, but he’ll be honest. He’ll go up there and say ‘I have more student loan debt than I do assets in general.’”
Pawar raised $828,000 from 2,526 donors and attracted support from voters across Illinois thanks, in part, to a 10-day bus tour in which he spoke of unifying citizens of Southern Illinois and Chicago. As an early entrant in the race, Pawar’s stances on major issues such as criminal justice reform and education encouraged other candidates to hold more progressive standpoints.
State Sen. Daniel Biss, who lives in Evanston, holds similarly progressive positions on issues to Pawar. As the only other competitive non-millionaire, Biss has worked to distinguish himself from the more pro-establishment candidates.
“Truly, between Daniel and Ameya, there was so little daylight on issues, what they stood for and their vision for Illinois,” said Lars Benson, a Weinberg junior and communications fellow for the Biss campaign. “It was really discouraging for those of us working on the campaign to see [Pawar’s] campaign, which was really well-run and generating a lot of grassroots enthusiasm be shuttered because of the extraordinary amount of money that’s already being poured into the race.”
Biss is now focused on increasing name recognition and advancing the progressive agenda that Pawar’s campaign helped to establish.
Pawar has not yet made a statement on whether he will endorse other candidates. In the meantime, Dobel and others who supported Pawar are working to elevate progressive candidates at all levels across Illinois.
“We’re in this society that only the rich can run, and everyone was determined to prove that wrong and [to show] that volunteer power and time was the most valuable asset that you could have on a campaign,” Dobel said. “Ameya embodied what we saw for the future … he was that piece of hope.”