NORMAL, Ill. (WCIA) — As Governor Pritzker and Darren Bailey debated on the Illinois State University campus Thursday night, they did so in an auditorium full of people watching.
As those people filtered out of Braden Auditorium once the debate was over, I spoke with several of them on how they thought the debate went and how the candidates performed.
Of the six people I talked to, three supported Pritzker and three supported Bailey. Each went into the debate with their preferred candidate already decided and each walked out believing more in their candidate. This trend agrees with an analysis made by Kent Redfield, political science professor emeritus of University of Illinois Springfield.
Bailey and Pritzker both claimed victory in the debate and their supporters did likewise. 24 hours after the debate ended, a Nexstar poll indicated 56% of respondents believe Bailey won the debate compared to 44% who said Pritzker won.
Ziff Sistrunk is a coach for a Chicago program called Reduce the Violence Sports. He supports Bailey.
“There’s a word called ‘smash,’ and J.B. Pritzker’s face was smashed in today,” Sistrunk said. “Bailey stayed on point. I thought he interrupted the governor one or two times; that was needed. But I think if I had to rate them, I would give Bailey a 7.5 and Pritzker a 5, 5.5.”
Shayna Watchinski works in a McLean County attorney’s office and is also a member of the county board. She supports Pritzker.
“I came in as a J.B. Pritzker supporter and I feel much more confident in our chances now. I think it was a solid win for Governor Pritzker, Watchsinki said. “If you listen back to all of the questions that were asked, he had cool, well-thought-out answers. He has the facts and the evidence to back up what he’s done the last four years as governor. You saw a lot of Darren Bailey interrupting and repeating the same catchphrases, bumper stickers over and over again, but had no plans, no vision.”
Watchinski did not refer to anything specific that Pritzker has done as governor. On the other hand, the Bailey supporters I spoke to pointed to several specific issues they see as persisting in the state.
“Four years later, we’re not in a better position than where we were when he started,” said Derek Tipsword, a volunteer in the Woodford County Republican Party. “The ways that Pritzker has let us down as a state, from the COVID mandates to the property taxes, energy bills. I mean, my Ameren bills tripled almost at this point. So I think that’s a big issue for most voters.”
Like Sistrunk, Tipsword believes Bailey won the debate.
“I think he had some great points,” Tipsword said. “I think that he brought many points to the table that I think we all know. There’s plenty of issues in the State of Illinois, and he brought up most all of them.”
One of those issues was crime.
“Crime was the major topic tonight and Bailey won, bottom line,” Sistrunk said.
John Kettman also spoke of crime among other issues.
“Gun control, gas prices, inflation, all of what we’ve been dealing with. The thing is, Pritzker has been in office for a few years. Why didn’t some of this stuff get done?” Kettman asked. “I love Chicago, but I fear going there now by seeing all the news that I do. There’s people getting shot every day and it’s not Al Capone; it’s the little kid sitting on Grandpa’s lap getting shot or going to school or sitting in a church bus.”
“The way Pritzker answered the questions, sometimes he avoided answering the questions where Bailey gave a through, full explanation for every answer to the question when it was delivered to him. On the gun control, on COVID, all of it,” Kettman added. “I think he delivered very good. Sometimes you can see it in the way he presented himself; almost like a dancer like on a boxing match. He did a very good job.”
I also spoke with a pair of Illinois State political science students who attended the debate: sophomore Alex Duffy and junior Zach Roy. They support Pritzker and offered a unique perspective on the debate.
“I like to be as objective as possible when watching these things,” Duffy said. “It was very interesting. I think [Pritzker] held his own. I think he did a really good job.”
“Bailey, again, very interesting performance. He did bring up some good points. I think when it came to pensions, he was really strong,” Duffy added. “But I think there was too much theatrics behind this whole performance to him.”
Duffy also acted as a stand-in for the debate, working with moderators Jennifer Roscoe and Tahman Bradley in rehearsals.
Roy said that he believed Pritzker had strong rebuttals and made his points clear while Bailey had weak responses. He specifically pointed to an anti-union stance he sees Bailey as having adopted, which Roy said could hurt Bailey as 14% of Illinois workers are union members.
While Roy saw Pritzker has having won the debate, he viewed the debate as a whole as being “unproductive.”
“I think there was a lot of interrupting and I think as debates go, there was no middle ground ever met,” Roy said. “I think the candidates had their points coming in, the audience had their opinions coming in, I don’t think any opinions are changed. So I think in terms of being productive, I don’t think the debate was productive. But I definitely think it’s interesting for the candidates to elaborate on some of their views, especially Governor Pritzker maybe giving some insight in the future policies and his opinions on different things.”
Regardless of who won the debate, both candidates and their supporters are energized heading into the final month of campaigning. Sistrunk said he can’t wait until the next debate, which will take place Oct. 18.