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Billionaire investor and philanthropist J.B. Pritzker is the Democratic nominee to be the next governor of Illinois, after outspending his opponents by tens of millions of dollars.
With about a third of the precincts reporting, Pritzker had taken about 44 percent of the vote, outpacing state Sen. Daniel Biss (D) and businessman Chris Kennedy (D), both of whom attracted about a quarter of the vote.
The Associated Press called the race a little more than an hour after polls closed.
Pritzker spent a jaw-dropping $63 million on his bid for the Democratic nomination, including more than $33 million on television advertising, far more than Biss or Kennedy.
Observers said Pritzker's money made the difference.
"Dan Biss and Chris Kennedy were always going to close the gap at the end, but old campaign rules won here," said Amy Gooden, a Chicago-based Democratic strategist who was neutral in the primary. "You can't compete with a candidate who is able to sustain a yearlong conversation with voters on every medium."
Pritzker's nomination likely means he will spend millions more on the general election. Pritzker will face the winner of the Republican nomination, in which incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner — also a mega-wealthy self-funder — is locked in a tight battle with state Rep. Jeanne Ives.
Ives, who is more conservative than Rauner, attacked the incumbent from the right for his decision to sign abortion funding legislation.
Ives spent a fraction of what Rauner did on television, about $2.9 million compared with $16.5 million for Rauner. But Democrats tried a last-minute gambit to push Ives over the line, spending almost $400,000 on late advertising dubbing her "too conservative" for Illinois — which amounted to an endorsement in a Republican primary.
Republicans signaled they would attack Pritzker for his association with two deeply unpopular Illinois Democrats. Pritzker is close with state Assembly Speaker Mike Madigan (D), and he was recorded on FBI wiretaps speaking with former Gov. Rob Blagojevich (D), who is still in jail.
"From FBI wiretaps with Rod Blagojevich to backroom deals with Mike Madigan, J.B. Pritzker has revealed himself to be yet another self-serving Illinois political insider," said Jon Thompson, the communications director for the Republican Governors Association. “Illinoisans know that J.B. Pritzker will never stand up to Mike Madigan, and with Mike Madigan’s handpicked candidate for governor on the ballot, this race will be a referendum on the tax-hiking, corrupt political machine that has bankrupted Illinois.”