Democrats from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Illinois’ top party leaders sought to present a message of unity in a regionally divided state Wednesday as they celebrated their first Governor’s Day at the Illinois State Fair in five years.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who defeated Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner last fall, lashed out at elements of the GOP seeking to pit Chicago against the rest of the state and at rural Republican lawmakers who talk of secession from the state’s largest city.
Addressing more than 2,000 people at the annual pre-fair brunch of the Democratic County Chairs’ Association, Pritzker cited “the insidious danger of a campaign by some elected representatives who suggest that Illinois would be better off divided into pieces — that if you live in one part of the state, that you’re less patriotic or less American than if you live in another part of the state.”
“Illinois’ success relies on all of us,” echoed Kristina Zahorik, the president of the county chairs group. “Democrats will not be divided by race, by gender or by whom they love. We will not be swayed by small-minded Republicans who seek to build a wall against Chicago and strive to use diversity as a political weapon.”
The messaging underscored the politics surrounding the visit by Pelosi, the brunch’s keynote speaker, to the heart of ruby-red Downstate Illinois, where rural political allegiances have remained Republican and loyal to President Donald Trump even as once-dominant GOP suburbs shift to the Democrats.
Noting the Democratic control of the state, Pelosi congratulated Pritzker and lauded a state that flipped two Republican congressional seats in last year’s midterm elections. Democrats now hold a 13-5 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation.
Pelosi highlighted the suburban and exurban victories of Lauren Underwood of Naperville and Sean Casten of Downers Grove in last year’s midterm congressional elections. Underwood attended the brunch but did not appear with Pelosi, while Casten was in Chicago on Wednesday speaking about climate change.