CHICAGO (WLS) -- ABC News projects downstate State Senator Darren Bailey has won the Republican nomination for Illinois governor, beating Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin.
Bailey has been perceived as more conservative than many of the other Republican challengers in the state, ABC7 political analyst Laura Washington said; he may in fact be the most conservative challenger to Gov. JB Pritzker.
But Washington noted that Bailey built a strong grassroots following especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he was outspoken against lockdown, mask mandates and remote schooling. He sued Pritzker over a stay-at-home order the governor issued, and was escorted off the floor of the Legislature for refusing to wear a mask.
Taking the stage at his victory party, Bailey criticized "elites" like Pritzker, the GOP establishment and others who say he cannot win in November. He pledged to outwork his opponent and stand up for regular, working people across Illinois.
Bailey and his wife Cindy went to his childhood school gymnasium in Effingham to cast their votes Tuesday morning. The downstate farmer and state senator said his team has done all they can; now it's up to the voters.
"So it's kind of like this cornfield across the street," he said. "That's my corn over there. And we've worked all spring to make sure we do everything possible to ensure a good crop and, and now we wait on the weather. And so it is here. We've done everything that we can do."
Irvin, the one-time frontrunner whose campaign was torpedoed by $35 million in negative ads run against him by Pritzker and his allies, struck a triumphant note with supporters even after losing the nomination. He did not mention Bailey in his speech but instead spoke about the future of Illinois and Pritzker.
"Listen, I hope this governor is wrong in his assessment that he can easily defeat the opponent he paid tens of millions of dollars to face. But if this governor is correct and if he does easily prevail, we as citizens must rise up," Irvin said.
He arrived to vote Tuesday hoping for a last-minute miracle.
"So hopefully the voters here recognize what JB Pritzker is doing trying to pick his own Republican candidate one that he knows he can beat instead of one that will actually be a competition for him," he said.
Irvin had the backing of the richest man in the state, Ken Griffin, who helped get Bruce Rauner elected governor. Griffin poured $50 million into the Irvin campaign, with $30 million spent on TV and radio ads, but it isn't quite moving the needle. The Illinois GOP may move to the right wing of the party as opposed to a potentially more palatable Republican for the general election.
After voting himself, Irvin planned a series of stops at other polling places to make a last minute pitch to voters.
Sullivan also addressed supporters after losing his bid for the nomination Tuesday, thanking them and his family for their support.
The young father and venture capitalist based his entire campaign around family values, his Christian faith, and military service.
He leaned heavily on moral issues, coming out staunchly against abortion and often talked about how politicians and government had no place in classrooms or controlling school curriculums.
Sullivan saw a last minute surge with the decision by the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, and he leaned heavily into that momentum, trying to pick up Republican votes in the Chicago area.
Sullivan sprinted around the Chicago area trying to collect conservative votes in Arlington Heights and Wheaton.
Then he returned home to Petersburg to cast his first ballot for himself.
The venture capitalist turned first time candidate is popular in his hometown of farmers and state workers just north of Springfield.
"I'm a commuter," said Melissa Jones, voter. "I live in a small town and go to a bigger city to work, so gas prices really hit home."
"I happen to know Jesse Sullivan personally, so I really feel strongly he's such a great person, and because of that I grabbed a Democrat ballot, but I did do a write in for Jesse," said voter Becca Newton.
Having lost his bid, he threw his full support behind Bailey and encouraged all his voters to do the same.
Bailey worked the lunchtime crowd at a restaurant in Effingham, and said he feels confident. He also dismissed the notion that Pritzker's campaign against Irvin is the reason he's on the verge of victory.
"Let them say what they want to say there is no doubt about it. It's our hard work ethic. It's our campaign's work ethic, the people that have had the, you know, come around the table to work with us," he said.
A last minute endorsement from Trump at a downstate rally this weekend solidified his frontrunner status.
Former Gov. Jim Edgar is worried about the down ballot impact of a Bailey primary victory.
"We would have the most right wing slate we've ever had going into the general election in Illinois, and I don't think that's good for the Republican Party in Illinois," Edgar said. "Not only do I think they have difficulty winning, I think they can have a drag on the people down the ballot."
Recent polls suggested there were still quite a number of undecided voters, but whether it's enough for Irvin or Sullivan to catch Bailey is the question that will be answered Tuesday.
Three other contenders vying for the Republican nomination were Gary Rabine, Paul Schimpf and Max Solomon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.