By Ed Marshall
(CBS) — The Illinois Primary is Tuesday, March 20. Here are five key races to watch:
When it’s all said and done, this race is likely to set a new record for the costliest statewide contest ever in U.S. history: an estimated $300 million by November.
With a week to go before the primary, nearly $90 million has been spent by all candidates.
The previous record was $280 million spent in the 2010 California governor’s race.
On the Democratic side, billionaire JB Pritzker has spent more than $63 million. The bulk of it coming from his inherited fortune.
Most polls have Pritzker leading Chris Kennedy by double digits.
On March 12, Capital Fax released its final poll showing Pritzker at 35 percent, Kennedy at 16 percent and Daniel Biss at 15 percent. There were 31 percent undecided.
Pritzker has never trailed in any polls. However remarks he made about black politicians to disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in a secretly FBI wiretap is lingering in the minds of voters.
Kennedy, the son of the late Bobby Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, has worked diligently to capture the black vote in Chicago and Cook County.
Kennedy leapfrogged State Sen. Biss once he began hammering Pritzker in broadcast campaign ads.
If Pritzker goes on to victory in the primary, it will mean black voters have either forgiven him for the insult or they see Pritzker as the best person to take down Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in November.
Pritzker’s main message has been that he is best able to beat Rauner due to his unified support from organized labor, his mainstream Democratic views and his wealth.
Biss has successfully cast himself as the “middle-class” candidate. Indeed he features his modest Evanston ranch home in his TV spots. And given Biss’ progressive credentials he has done an admirable job of fundraising, banking more than $3 million.
Kennedy has self-funded about half of his $3 million insurgent effort. He is staking his campaign on the need to change the status quo by blaming Illinois’ most powerful politician, House Speaker Mike Madigan, whose 45 years in command is blamed for the state’s fiscal woes and out-migration.
Also running: downstate schools administrator Bob Daiber, anti-violence advocate Tio Hardiman and Burr Ridge physician Bob Marshall.
On the Republican side, Rauner is facing a challenge from the right from arch-conservative West Point graduate Jeanne Ives.
The latest poll has Rauner at 51 percent leading Ives at 31 percent.
Ives represented Wheaton in the statehouse but decided to enter the race after Rauner flip-flopped, signing a bill providing public funding of abortions for the poor.
Rauner has already spent $12 million and is sitting on another $55 million in cash. The bulk of his resources come from his fortune earned as a hedge fund investor.
Rauner has stated he will spend whatever it takes to compete in both the primary and the general election.
Ives’ campaign is largely funded by conservative packaging mogul Dick Uihlein, who has donated $2.5 million.
3rd Congressional District
This race for control of the 3rd Congressional District is getting national attention.
And it’s the tightest Democratic primary on the state ballot with a late poll giving Rep. Dan Lipinski just a two point lead at 43 percent to 41 percent for newcomer Marie Newman of La Grange
Anti-abortion Lipinski has faithfully and quietly held this southwest side and west suburban district since his father retired from the seat in 2005.
But pro-choice forces from within Illinois and Washington believe Lipinski is vulnerable, saying he is out of touch with the Democratic Party in the state and Washington.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi is backing Lipinski though Newman is backed by Sanders and a number of Democratic lawmakers and some within Illinois’ own delegation.
This mostly blue-collar seat has been so safe for Lipinski in years past that he has faced no opposition in both the primary and the general.
The winner will face Arthur Jones, a neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier, who is running unopposed on the Republican side.
Cook County Assessor/Democratic Primary
This race is a microcosm of the race for governor because unpopular incumbent Joe Berrios is an ally of Speaker Madigan.
Madigan heads the state Democratic Party. Berrios heads the Cook County Democratic Party.
Madigan is criticized for a private law practice that grants property tax breaks to wealthy owners.
Berrios’ office sets the value of the properties, and he, too, has a similar private practice.
Berrios also is a registered lobbyist.
Berrios proudly lists a number of family members on his public payroll.
Enter newcomer Fritz Kaegi.
Kaegi is a retired hedge fund investor who is running to effect change in the way the Assessor sets rates.
Published studies show Berrios sets rates that favor wealthy property owners at the expense of the less well to do. Critics say that system makes it unfair for those who can’t afford to hire someone like Madigan or Berrios to get a reduction.
Kaegi enjoys the support of liberal Democrats like Betty Lu Saltzman, an early supporter of Barack Obama.
Berrios enjoys the support of property tax lawyers, developers and property owners.
Lisa Madigan’s mysterious decision not to run again turned this race into a free-for-all.
Madigan has a 15-year stranglehold on the office of the state’s top legal officer.
Pent-up ambition burst forth with a slate of eight quality candidates.
Three ex-federal prosecutors, a suburban mayor, a state senator, a defense lawyer, a former member of the Chicago school board and an ex-governor.
How’s that for talent?
Late polls have Pat Quinn in the lead at 23 percent and 18 percent for Senator Kwame Raoul in second place.
Undecideds lead with a massive 43 percent. So this race will come down to Election Day.
On the Republican side, former Miss America Erika Harold is being challenged by Du Page County Board member Gary Grasso.
Early polls have Harold in the lead. She holds a law degree from Harvard and ran once for office, a losing effort for Congress for the District surrounding her hometown Urbana.
Grasso is the former Burr Ridge Mayor.
Fourth Congressional District
Luis Gutierrez, 63, lost the fire to go on after nearly 25 years in Congress. So he anointed Jesus Chuy Garcia as his replacement for this Hispanic-majority District.
There was criticism of the “Chicago Way” when Chuy then anointed Ald. Ricardo Munoz to replace him on the Cook County Board. That takes Garcia out of a likely rematch for Mayor next year with Rahm Emanuel who gets to pick Munoz’ replacement in City Council.
Also running are newcomer Sol Flores and Chicago cop Richard Gonzalez.
The primary is the main bout because this district is dominated by Democrats.
Ed Marshall is CBS Chicago’s political producer.