SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Asphalt magnate Gary Rabine is one of three Republicans currently running in the primary contest to challenge Governor J.B. Pritzker in 2022.

With 11 months to go before the primary election, the Bull Valley businessman is leading the early field of candidates in fundraising. So far, Rabine has based most of his campaign message on attacking Pritzker’s record during the pandemic.

“I’m kind of a crazy entrepreneur,” Rabine said during an interview on Capitol Connection. “Leadership in any capacity is about, first, understanding what you do know. And then, finding the best minds in the country or the world in the things you don’t know.”

Rabine said people who “really believe they’re done learning, they know it all” are a “deficit to the customers they serve when they have that mentality.”

Rabine has already had to do a fair amount of learning on the fly during his young campaign.

In late March, when Rabine launched his campaign, a reporter asked him if he believed the 2020 election was stolen due to fraud.

“I’m not smart enough to understand what was the end result, whether it was stolen or not, and I would never say that,” he said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Since then, former President Trump’s hand-picked Attorney General Bill Barr called Trump’s claims of election fraud “b***s***,” and former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, an ardent supporter of Mr. Trump’s, said, “He never had one bit of fraud in all those lawsuits he filed and statements he made.

Instead of revising or updating his answer during a July interview on Capitol Connection, Rabine blamed a reporter for printing his comments out of their full context and again reiterated that he’s not smart enough to confirm that President Biden indeed won the election.

“I don’t claim, and will never claim, that I’m an expert enough to understand how many votes were stolen,” he said, later acknowledging that he had no evidence of any stolen votes. “But if it was one, two, or 10,000, boy that should be investigated thoroughly.”

“In politics, I guess have to learn on how to communicate,” Rabine said. “But I’m a very transparent person. I admit that I know things that I know. And I definitely do it more often when I’m not.”

Rabine would soon get a lesson in the pitfalls of exaggeration from his campaign spokesperson, Travis Akin, who had to walk back a bogus claim Rabine made about Coronavirus vaccines.

“I’m not an anti-vaxxer by any stretch,” Rabine said moments before launching into a list of reasons why he supports people who refuse the vaccine.

Rabine said vaccines from Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson were “not FDA approved.” The FDA has cleared each of those vaccines for emergency use, which is not yet the same as full licensure, though each drug maker is seeking full FDA approval. Regulators still have to pore over clinical data and examine the manufacturing process before granting the complete approval. President Biden has signaled that more rigorous review and approval could come as soon as the end of next month.

Then, Rabine falsely said that if the vaccines were FDA approved, they “would have been taken off the shelf about 5,000 or 6,000 deaths ago.”

Rabine’s comment, which he repeated throughout the interview, either misunderstands or misinterprets the CDC’s regular, routine collection of “adverse event” reports from people who took the vaccine. As a part of rigorous review protocols, the law requires public health experts to cast a wide net and collect a variety of tips or reports from anyone and everyone who may have gone through some sort of medical episode or death after taking a vaccine, even if the vaccine had nothing to do with their medical episode. Those reports are gathered and collected for medical professionals to thoroughly examine and look for any potential link back to the vaccine. The CDC calls the process the “most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history,” and says the vaccines are “safe and effective.”

Out of 339 million vaccine doses distributed in the U.S., a very small number of people, roughly 2 to 5 people per million vaccinated, showed signs of some allergic reactions. In April, the CDC and FDA temporarily paused the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine when regulators found six cases of patients experiences a rare form of blood clotting. The health experts later cleared the vaccine to continue after evaluating the risks and determining the known and potential benefits outweigh any of the known risks.

In January, the United States was averaging more than 3,300 deaths due to the Coronavirus every day. Then the vaccine became readily available. Today, the number of daily deaths is down to an average of roughly 270 deaths per day. The overwhelming majority of those deaths — greater than 95% — are among unvaccinated populations.

Researchers at Yale University analyzed COVID-19 figures from October 2020 through July 2021 and found the vaccine doses saved 279,000 lives and kept 1.25 million people out of the hospital.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, Rabine said, “I can’t tell you if they are” preventable deaths. “All I can tell you that the data I’m getting shows that there’s been anywhere from 5,900 deaths attributed to this to 8,000. What the real number is, I don’t know.”

Fact check: the real number of confirmed deaths attributed to the vaccine is three, according to studies published in the Journal of American Medical Association that established a probable link between the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and extremely rare blood clots.

Asked to clarify what he meant, Rabine again incorrectly attributed thousands of deaths directly to the vaccine. He was apparently using the CDC’s ‘Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System’ (VAERS) to inflate fears about the risks of the vaccine. While the CDC says “reports of death after COVID-19 vaccination are rare,” the agency did collect “6,207 reports of death (0.0018%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine,” adding that the “FDA requires healthcare providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS, even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause.”

The CDC designed that data collection system to monitor for any possible clues that might lead to a link between the vaccine and adverse effects. Anyone can submit a complaint or report an adverse effect to VAERS, even if the death had nothing remotely to do with a drug reaction. Indeed, some of the reported deaths include patients with cardiac disease who died from a heart attack, or patients who suffered no adverse reaction from the vaccine itself. Health officials have characterized comments like Rabine’s as “scientifically inaccurate, misleading, and irresponsible.”

According to VAERS, the database of preliminary reports “cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness” because it may include “incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental and unverified information.”

In a voicemail after Rabine’s interview, his spokesman Travis Akin said, “In terms of definitively saying that those deaths are related to the vaccine, I think we are walking that back. That’s not necessarily what he was trying to say.”

“Those deaths could be related to the vaccine,” Akin said. “He’s not saying definitively those people died. That’s not what he means. That’s not what he’s trying to say. He’s simply saying those deaths could be related to the vaccine, and if so, we need to know about it.”

Coroners, medical examiners, and health experts have reviewed autopsies from each of those patients and found no link to suggest the vaccine caused their deaths.

In addition to stoking unfounded fears about the vaccine, Rabine also opposed legal efforts from universities or employers to mandate students or employees take the vaccine. Colleges and companies can start issuing vaccine mandates once the FDA grants full approval of the vaccines, but cannot do so under the emergency use phase.

Dr. Jerome Adams, the former Surgeon General, predicted that the military and businesses will start to mandate vaccinations once the FDA gives the final green light.

“I don’t think that business should be allowed to do that,” Rabine said. “I don’t think that education systems should be able to do that. I feel that that’s against the rights of that person to lose their job because they won’t take a vaccine.”

Rabine also initially said he would’ve signed the 2019 capital infrastructure bill, but reversed his answer when he learned the bipartisan legislation paid for upgrades to roads and bridges with a higher gas tax.