CARBONDALE — All six Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls squared off before a Southern Illinois audience Tuesday night in a forum hosted by Southern Illinois Local Media Group.
The free event drew a lively crowd, filling the Southern Illinois University Student Center auditorium to capacity.
Billionaire investor J.B. Pritzker, widely thought to be the Democratic frontrunner in what is expected to be the costliest governor’s race in U.S. history, focused most of his attacks on President Donald Trump and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, but also frequently took aim at fellow candidates State Sen. Daniel Biss and businessman Chris Kennedy.
Biss, in turn, slammed Kennedy — who is the son of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy — and Pritzker for not releasing their full tax returns.
The forum was moderated by Jim Slusher, opinion editor of the Daily Herald, and Brandon Richard, chief political reporter for WSIL-TV.
Bob Daiber, regional superintendent of schools in Madison County, said he is the first Southern Illinois candidate to run as a Democrat for governor in 20 years and argued that his values appeal to downstate voters.
“When you go to your mailbox in the morning, and you see your neighbor at the mailbox and you’re both taking out this political literature, who’s easiest to sell? Some guy from Southern Illinois that has a FOID card, that the people in Chicago said, ‘You better watch him, ’cause he owns a gun’? Or is it some rich guy that’s got millions of dollars that’s not at all like them?” Daiber said.
Tio Hardiman, executive director and founder of the anti-violence group CeaseFire Illinois, called himself a “bridge builder bringing people to the table of peace.”
“I believe it’s important to run this state from the bottom up rather than the top down,” Hardiman said.
Physician Robert Marshall, who wants to divide Illinois into three states, seemed the odd man out throughout the evening, sometimes triggering incredulous laughter from the audience as he discussed his platform. When candidates were asked whether they would support whomever wins the Democratic primary, Kennedy said he’d support any of his peers — except Marshall.
Biss asked whether Pritzker, who has contributed millions to his own campaign, would do the same for whomever wins the primary.
“Senator Biss, I appreciate the question, but you’ve taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from Springfield insiders and lobbyists and bankers, and frankly you’ve changed your position on quite a number of things over the years,” Pritzker said.
Biss denied the accusation.
“I’m incredibly proud of the fundraising that we have. It’s from ordinary people. And those vague accusations that don’t mention a single contribution are because of the remarkable way that we funded our campaign … I will happily accept a contribution from you the day after the primary, J.B.,” Biss said.
The Illinois gubernatorial primary will be held March 20.