A Voter's Guide to Democratic Governor's Race

 /  March 6, 2018, 9:17 p.m.


In the Democratic primary on March 20, Illinoisans will elect the candidate who will go up against a Republican in the contest for the state’s highest position-- governor. As the commander-in-chief of the state’s military forces as well as the individual in charge of appointing non-elected government officials, the governor is arguably the most powerful person in Illinois.

Why You Should Care

With support for Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner extremely low (he is the seventh least popular governor in the nation), and with only one contender challenging him in the primary, Democrats have a real chance of taking back the position. Therefore, the Democratic primary is a race to watch closely. In addition to their control over the state’s armed forces and appointment power, the governor of Illinois also has the power to reorganize state departments and grant pardons, reprieves, and commutations. Of course, the governor’s most direct influence on policy is through the bills they sign or veto. For example, in 2017 Rauner came under fire from conservatives after he signed a controversial bill that expanded taxpayer-funded abortions. The next governor will have a dramatic impact on the course of Illinois politics for the next four years. This year, the primary will likely come down to a competition between J.B. Pritzker and Daniel Biss.


  1. J.B. Pritzker was born in Chicago to a wealthy family. Pritzker’s uncle, Jay Pritzker, founded Hyatt Hotels and his father Donald managed and developed the Hyatt Hotel chain. Pritzker graduated from Duke University in 1987 with a BA in political science and received his JD from Northwestern Law School in 1993. In 2015, the Pritzkers made a $100 million donation to the law school, leading to its renaming as the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. Pritzker has founded and headed several investment and entrepreneurial groups, including Pritzker Group Venture Capital, the Illinois Venture Capital Association, the Chicagoland Venture Capital Center, Chicago Venture, Techstars Chicago, and Pritzker Group Private Capital. In 2008, he served as the national co-chairman of the Hillary for President campaign, and when Clinton lost to Barack Obama in the primary, he helped to coordinate the campaign for Obama in Illinois. Pritzker’s campaign has emphasized restoring fiscal stability to Illinois by balancing the budget and creating a progressive tax system, restoring the state’s social services, and protecting and preserving health coverage. He is running with State Representative Juliana Stratton as his candidate for lieutenant governor. Pritzker has been endorsed by the Cook County Democratic Party, 23 Democratic County Chairs across the state, the Illinois AFL-CIO, and U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, among others.
  2. Daniel Biss grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, and graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1998 with a degree in mathematics. Biss received a PhD in mathematics from MIT in 2002 and became an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Chicago until 2008. Biss was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 2011, where he passed legislation on issues including environmental policy, economic growth, consumer protection, and equal rights. In 2012, Biss was elected to represent the 9th District in the  Illinois State Senate, emphasizing policy surrounding retirement security and technology and privacy. In a recent visit to the University of Chicago, Biss promoted his proposal to provide tuition-free higher education in Illinois by increasing taxation of higher earners. His running mate is State Representative Litesa Wallace; he announced he would be running with Wallace after he dropped his former running mate, Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa over differences over Israel. Biss has been endorsed by a variety of groups, including Our Revolution and the Sierra Club- Illinois.
  3. Chris Kennedy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Robert Francis Kennedy Sr. and Ethel Kennedy, and is the nephew of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy. He graduated from Boston College with a BA in political science in 1986 and earned his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 1994. Having spent a great deal of his career working on hunger issues, Kennedy began and runs the Chicago-based nonprofit Top Box foods. Kennedy has also managed Merchandise Mart properties and has served as chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. In his gubernatorial campaign Kennedy has emphasized policies to create jobs by keeping companies in Illinois, reducing gun violence, and ensuring funding for social services such as teachers and police officers. Although they lambasted him for claiming that Rahm Emanuel is trying to drive minorities out of the city, the Chicago Tribune has still chosen to endorse Kennedy. Kennedy’s running mate is Ra Joy, the executive director of Change Illinois, whose 23-year-old son was killed in gun violence near the University of Chicago in 2017.
  4. Tio Hardiman grew up in Chicago’s Henry Horner housing projects, and earned a BA in liberal arts and an MA in inner city studies from Northeastern Illinois University. He has worked as a professor of criminal justice at Governor State University and has served as executive director for Violence Interrupters NFP, a unit of violence intervention experts that mediate conflict to reduce violence in the state. Hardiman has also worked for the Humane Society of the United States to raise awareness about inner city pit bull dogfighting. Hardiman also ran for governor in 2014, losing in the primary to former governor Pat Quinn. This year, his running mate is Patricia Avery, president of the Champaign County NAACP and head of the non-profit Champaign-Urbana Project.
  5. Bob Daiber attended Eastern Illinois University and graduated with a BS in education in 1978 and an MS in education in 1979, and earned a doctorate of education from the Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville in 1990. In the past, Daiber has owned a farm and worked as a shop teacher at Triad High School. He was elected Madison County Superintendent of Schools in 2006, a position he still holds. Daiber has said he supports a progressive income tax, believes in the second amendment but also in some degree of gun regulation, and has expressed his commitment to maintaining health coverage under Medicaid and the terms of the Affordable Care Act. Daiber’s running mate is Jonathan Todd, a social worker from the West Side of Chicago.
  6. Robert Marshall served in the U.S. Army from 1970 to 1972 and attended Oberlin College and Harvard Medical School. He served as the assistant director of radiology at MacNeal Hospital and opened a private practice in 1984. Marshall ran for congress in 1998 as a Republican, but then ran for U.S. Senate in 2014 and congress in 2016 as a Democrat. Marshall has stated his firm opposition to graduated income tax of the kind many of his opponents support, and has suggested instead lowering property taxes and legalizing and taxing marijuana to supplement the state’s taxation revenue. He has also argued that the legalization of marijuana and the decriminalization of cocaine and heroin could lessen Chicago’s violence by removing money from the drug trade and allowing addicts to be treated as patients rather than criminals.

To learn more, we recommend readers check out the Sun-Times Voters Guide.

The featured image is licensed under the Creative Commons; the original can be found here.

Kaeli Subberwal

Kaeli Subberwal is a third-year political science major and physics minor, interested in journalism and science policy. Over the summer, Kaeli interned at HuffPost Politics in Washington, DC; previously, she wrote a weekly column and reported for the Summit Daily News in Frisco, CO. In her spare time, Kaeli enjoys hiking in the Rocky Mountains and traveling with her family.