Jesse Sullivan, known as “Sully” to supporters, mounted an unsuccessful campaign for Governor of Illinois in 2022. Though he put forward a platform of lower taxes, better schools, and addressing crime, Sullivan was unable to gain enough traction to win the Republican primary. His loss highlights the difficulties faced by first-time candidates in raising funds and name recognition against established politicians. However, Sullivan’s focus on kitchen table issues could provide a roadmap for future GOP candidates seeking to lead Illinois.
Background on Jesse Sullivan
Jesse Sullivan grew up in Petersburg, IL before moving to Chicago after college. The son of two public school teachers, he attended the University of North Carolina on a football scholarship. After working in business and education, Sullivan founded Alter Global in 2009 to invest in technology startups. He also started a nonprofit called Voice of the Ex-Offender.
Entering politics in 2021, Sullivan billed himself as a conservative outsider who would bring fresh ideas to the governor’s office. As a political newcomer, he faced the challenge of building name recognition across Illinois. But he promised to shake up the status quo in Springfield.
Key Platform Issues
Sullivan outlined a conservative policy agenda focused on:
He called for eliminating the state’s income tax and replacing it with a flat tax. This would lower the burden on middle-class families. Sullivan also wanted to repeal the gas tax hike passed in 2019.
His education proposals included expanding school choice via vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. Sullivan also favored banning critical race theory and emphasized empowering parents.
To reduce violent crime, Sullivan pushed for hiring more police officers and tougher sentencing laws. He supported fully repealing Illinois’ new criminal justice reform.
Republican Primary Campaign
Facing an uphill battle as a first-time candidate, Sullivan touted his outsider status but struggled to gain momentum.
Sullivan was part of a crowded Republican field that included:
A conservative state senator who rallied grassroots support to win the nomination.
The Mayor of Aurora who lost despite over $50 million in backing from billionaire Ken Griffin.
A former Marine officer and 2014 candidate for governor who finished fifth.
Sullivan landed endorsements from national figures like Ted Cruz but lacked backing from major GOP elected officials in Illinois. Bailey consolidated more in-state support.
One of Sullivan’s biggest challenges was fundraising. He raised around $8 million but was heavily outspent by Irvin and Pritzker’s campaign funds.
General Election Against Pritzker
After losing the primary, Sullivan sat out the general election while Pritzker cruised to reelection over Bailey.
Loss in the Primary
In the June 2022 primary, Sullivan finished second with only 15.7% of the vote, well behind Darren Bailey’s 57.5% share.
Bailey’s Defeat in General Election
Despite consolidating GOP support after the primary, Bailey lost handily to Pritzker in November. The incumbent governor won 54.9% to Bailey’s 42.4%.
Takeaways from the Campaign
While he came up short in 2022, Sullivan’s first-time run for governor provides some lessons for future campaigns.
Messaging and Platform
His focus on reducing crime and taxes and empowering parents drew conservative support. This Reaganesque small-government vision could still appeal to Illinois voters.
As a newcomer candidate, Sullivan was vastly outspent and unable to match the war chests of Pritzker and Irvin. Building fundraising networks takes time.
Competition in the Primary
Facing multiple candidates dividing the GOP electorate made it difficult for Sullivan to consolidate support against the grassroots favorite Bailey.
Jesse Sullivan brought youthful energy and a bold conservative message to Illinois’ 2022 gubernatorial race. Though he came up short in his first statewide campaign, Sullivan gave voice to issues like crime, taxes, and education reform that remain salient for voters. With more experience and fundraising, candidates like Sullivan could reshape the electoral landscape to once again make Republicans competitive in Illinois. His 2022 race deserves study as a model for the future of the GOP in this deep blue state.
Q: What office did Jesse Sullivan run for in 2022?
A: Jesse Sullivan ran for Governor of Illinois as a Republican in 2022.
Q: Did Jesse Sullivan win the Republican nomination?
A: No, Sullivan lost the Republican primary to State Senator Darren Bailey, coming in second place with only 15.7% of the vote.
Q: What were some key platforms Sullivan campaigned on?
A: Sullivan campaigned on lowering taxes in Illinois, reforming education through school choice, and getting tough on crime.
Q: How much funding did Sullivan raise for his campaign?
A: Sullivan raised around $8 million in campaign funds, far below the funding raised by primary winner Darren Bailey and incumbent Governor J.B. Pritzker.
Q: What lessons can be learned from Sullivan’s failed gubernatorial bid?
A: Sullivan’s loss highlights challenges for first-time candidates like fundraising and name recognition. But his messaging could provide a playbook for future Illinois Republicans.