SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Now that the first Illinois governor’s debate is over, how much of the public perception of candidates Darren Bailey and J.B. Pritzker will change from the debate?
One professor from the University of Illinois Springfield said not much.
“There was nothing there that was a huge gaffe, a huge breakout,” Kent Redfield, political science professor emeritus of University of Illinois Springfield, said. “There’s nothing that’s going to be, you know, in the history books about what you should do right, or should do wrong in a debate.”
Redfield elaborated that he thinks the format used is not suited for gubernatorial debates; in his opinion too many topics were covered in too short of a time to get much substantial information about each candidate’s policies.
He also called the debate a draw, but admitted “Bailey won by not losing”.
“[Bailey’s] been pictured and characterized as extreme, he comes off as someone who reacts and overreacts,” Redfield said. “There was nothing there that would hurt him in terms of that.”
Attendees of the debate tended to agree that the debate only strengthened their opinions.
One of the most contentious moments of the debate was abortion rights.
During the debate, Pritzker said he is focused on increasing access to abortion and will not change the time frame for when someone can get an abortion. Pritzker also attacked Bailey for his stance on the issue.
“Darren Bailey wants to eliminate a woman’s right to choose,” Pritzker said. “He wants to take away women’s reproductive rights. That is precisely what he stands for.”
After the debate, Brigid Leahy, the Vice President of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood Illinois Action PAC praised Pritzker’s work to expand abortion access.
“In this moment, we need a leader who is working to expand access and keep abortion safe and legal in Illinois, as Governor Pritzker has done,” she wrote in a statement. “Bailey is too extreme and out of touch to be an effective leader of our state.”
Bailey failed to provide a direct response when asked about whether he plans to ban abortions in the state. He said he can’t change the state’s current abortion laws because of the Democrat-controlled legislature.
“Illinois has the most permissive abortion laws in the nation,” Bailey said. “Nothing’s going to change when I’m governor. I couldn’t change them if I could.”
Despite this, anti-abortion rights advocates still support Bailey.
“[Senator] Bailey is unapologetically pro life and he will work to undo some of the extremism that we have in our state right now,” Amy Gehrke, the Executive Director of Illinois Right to Life, said.
“Is that reassuring to say, that in an issue you really care about, in terms of his core [base], ‘I really can’t do anything but it’ll be good to have a Republican in there to block the Democrats,’” Redfield said. “If he goes too far in terms of trying to move to the middle, then that weakens the enthusiasm in his base.”
Bailey also doubled down on his controversial statement from a 2017 Facebook Live video, where he compared abortion to the Holocaust.
“The atrocity of the Holocaust is beyond parallel,” Bailey said. “Those statements were made five years ago when Governor Rauner signed into law taxpayer funded abortion. The facts are true when you compare the numbers.”
“Anytime you’ve got questions about someone’s, you know, support for Israel, or that, you know, there might be some kind of antisemitic undertones in terms of a candidate’s positions, you know, that all that does is cause, you know, doubt,” Redfield said.
Another major topic in the debate was the SAFE-T Act, the sweeping criminal justice reform legislation that eliminates cash bail which goes into effect Jan. 1.
Pritzker supports the SAFE-T Act but has said changes need to be made to the legislation.
During the debate, he didn’t provide a clear response, and he didn’t specify what those changes should be when he addressed reporters after the debate.
“I think there are clarifications that can be made in the law to make sure that everyone understands what this law is all about,” Pritzker said while on the debate stage.
But Pritzker acknowledged the changes proposed by Champaign’s Democratic Senator Scott Bennett, saying he is ready for a dialogue.
Those changes focus on tightening up language around when somebody can be detained pre-trial.
Redfield said the main complaint people have had with the bill is ending cash bail and that discussions are needed to address it.
“The elimination of cash bail … to get it right, it’s going to take some work, and you pass the bill, to get it on the books and with a delayed effective date, partially to get people to the bargaining table,” Redfield said.
Bailey made his stance on the issue clear, saying he wants to repeal the entire law.
“The SAFE-T Act must be repealed because it lets violent criminals and murderers out of jail before trial,” Bailey said.