Time on deck for Bailey if he wants to get his point across
The two days of partisan political events during the Illinois State Fair are like miniature, stripped down and informal versions of national political conventions. They serve as something of a kickoff to our fall campaign season, so they’re usually watched closely by reporters covering the campaigns and by insiders.
Speeches and organized theater are generally allowed to dominate coverage. Gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey was driven to the Republican Day event last week on a big John Deere tractor, an image tailored for television and print journalists. He then skillfully delivered his well-written speech, which mostly attempted to portray the incumbent Democratic governor as a disconnected, soft-handed billionaire who lives in a bubble and has no idea what average people are going through.
The image of “hands” was central to Bailey’s speech. “With our hands and our sweat, we feed life, we strengthen our families and we feed the world,” he said. “Look at your hands. They’re probably like mine, a little swollen, a little calloused, they have scars,” he said before recounting the life of a farmer.
“Businesses leave, families leave. Some people just throw up their arms and give up,” he said later in his speech. “But I mentioned your hands earlier. Watch them again. You and I are hands-on people. We solve problems all day. Now we have to turn our attention to fixing this great condition,” he continued.
And then he pitted “our” hands against those of the wealthy governor. “Tuesday I milked a cow,” Bailey said, which of course involves her hands. “Last week with JB Pritzker, he took a picture with the butter cow. Do not mistake yourself. The butter cow is amazing. … But JB and his gentle billionaire hands were safe on the other side of that protective glass, away from work. A bit like in his billionaire bubble. I say he doesn’t care. But I want to tell you something. Maybe he just doesn’t know.
The hands metaphor has also been used as a means of political action: “You can’t clear a field of weeds unless you pull them out by the roots, friends, and the only way to fix Illinois is to turn JB Pritzker and solve the problem by the roots.
But images and speeches rarely have an impact with media coverage alone. A candidate needs money to put those images and zingers in TV commercials and to amplify them in the online world.
And Bailey still doesn’t have the money to do this. Its main backer, billionaire Richard Uihlein, arrived relatively late but important during the primary. So maybe he’ll start over again. Bailey has yet to show his ability to raise substantial funds on his own, either before the primary or since. Bailey’s only reported contribution last week was just $1,000.
Since the primary, Uihlein has donated $20 million to Dan Proft’s People Who Play by the Rules PAC. Proft, a radio host and political activist, ran some super solid TV ads on Bailey’s behalf during the primary, so at first I didn’t think it was a big deal. Instead, Proft returned to running the type of ads that didn’t win many elections when he got involved in legislative races (mostly with Uihlein’s money). Its latest commercials, which cost $1.8 million at the time of this writing, simply feature strangers who appear to be talking to an unseen interviewer just off camera.
None of Proft’s independent expense announcements mention Bailey by name. Pritzker is not even introduced. If, as I suspect, Uihlein ultimately wants Proft to lead Bailey’s campaign, then Proft isn’t auditioning well. Bailey’s primary advertisements, funded by Uihlein, were infinitely superior to what is currently airing on television. The GOP ticket situation is currently in near-disaster mode, with Bailey under siege, but it will be doomsday if someone doesn’t do something soon.
The speeches of individual candidates generally matter much less after the state fair is over. And Bailey showed last week that he wasn’t quite capable of answering reporters’ questions.
Asked about his specific plan to address gun violence, for example, Bailey said, “It would be nice if we started obeying and following the laws we have.”
Bailey’s speech and Q&A were filled with controversial, unsubtle code words about hard-working people being victimized by their leaders who must now stand up as one and strike down their abuser.
But it’s still a lot more efficient than the stuff Uihlein is paying a lot of money for right now.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.
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