The Illinois Governor’s Race Is Poised to Become the Most Expensive in History

Two ultra-wealthy candidates are spending heavily on their own campaigns.

J.B. Pritzker speaks with the media shortly before shelling out $63 million of his own money in his bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Illinois.Max Herman/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

The Illinois primary is still two weeks away, but the state’s race for governor is already well on its way to becoming the most expensive gubernatorial contest in history, according to a new analysis from the Chicago Sun-Times. What’s more, most of that campaign cash is coming from the candidates themselves.

Bruce Rauner, the unpopular and extremely wealthy Republican incumbent, has spent $57.2 million of his own money on his re-election campaign so far, while Democratic billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker has sunk $63.2 million into his hotly contested primary race. If the two candidates face off in the general election, the total bill could reach $300 million, according to a projection cited by the Sun-Times. That would surpass the amount spent in the 2010 California gubernatorial showdown between Democrat Jerry Brown and Silicon Valley executive Meg Whitman—which currently holds the all-time record—by $20 million. It could also account for somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of the total money expected to be spent in 2018’s 36 governors’ races.

The candidates’ investments, however, aren’t necessarily translating into a decisive impact in the polls. The latest numbers from a Southern Illinois University survey put Pritzker just 10 points ahead of Illinois state senator Daniel Biss, a progressive challenger whose campaign has only raised about $5 million. The poll shows Rauner—who according to Morning Consult had a dismal 31-percent approval rating at the end of January—losing to Pritzker and Biss by 15 points and 13 points, respectively, in the general election.

The Biss campaign has mocked Pritzker’s massive financial advantage with a website called, which features a calculator that lets visitors enter their annual income to see just how quickly Pritzker’s campaign would spend an equivalent amount.

 Illinois’ gubernatorial primaries will take place on Tuesday, March 20.


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