J.B. Pritzker wins Democratic nomination for Illinois governor
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J.B. Pritzker wins Democratic nomination for Illinois governor

WASHINGTON (JTA) — J.B. Pritzker, the scion of a hotel family with deep Jewish community ties, handily bested his opponents in a Democratic primary for Illinois governor.

He will face incumbent Bruce Rauner, who is seen as vulnerable.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dan Lipinski, the incumbent Democrat in Illinois’ 3rd District, comprising a part of Chicago and its southern and western suburbs, squeaked past a progressive challenger in a primary race where Israel emerged as an issue. His opponent in November is an avowed neo-Nazi, who ran uncontested for the Republican nomination in a district that votes overwhelmingly Democratic.

Pritzker took a substantial lead in what had been depicted as a close three-way race against Daniel Biss, who, like Pritzker, is Jewish and Chris Kennedy, a scion of the legendary American political family. Pritzker garnered 45 percent of the vote to Biss’ 27 percent and Kennedy’s 24 percent.

Pritzker, whose sister Penny was a Commerce Secretary under President Barack Obama, has credited his Jewish upbringing in the family that founded the Hyatt hotel chain for shaping his outlook. “When we would go to temple and listen to discussions (in services or Sunday school), there was no difference between the things being taught at temple and those being taught at home,” he told a Chicago Jewish paper. He has served on the board of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

A longtime backer of Hillary Clinton, Pritzker is seen as firmly ensconced in the party’s establishment.

Rauner, a moderate Republican, squeaked through a primary challenge by Jeanne Ives, a conservative Republican, winning 51 to 49 percent. He is unpopular in a state that has suffered a financial crisis on his watch.

Lipinski, a conservative Democrat, had infuriated much of the Democratic Party with his refusal in 2012 to endorse Obama, with his anti-abortion stand and with his votes against signature Obama achievements, including health care reform and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

The vote against the Iran deal led J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, to back his opponent, Marie Newman, through its affiliated political action committee. Also backing Newman were an array of reproductive rights advocacy groups.

Newman directly appealed to the district’s substantial Arab American community, including in a web ad that noted his support for Israel.

The ad was altered to remove the Israel references, but it helped spur centrist and right-wing pro-Israel support for Lipinski. He bested Newman 51 to 49 percent.

Lipinski now faces the Republican candidate, Arthur Jones, who once led the American Nazi Party and who is an unrepentant Holocaust denier. The state and national Republican parties have vigorously disavowed Jones, who took advantage of the fact that the party chose not to back a candidate in a district that has for decades been handily won by Democrats.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a rare statement in response to Jones’ candidacy.

“Hatred and antisemitism have no place in our politics or in the public square,” said its director, Sara J. Bloomfield, in a statement.  “Whenever proponents of antisemitism, neo-Nazi ideology or Holocaust denial seek a public platform, civic and political leaders from across the political spectrum must continue to speak out and condemn those ideas.  We commend the unequivocal rejection of Jones‘s antisemitism and racism by leaders like Illinois Governor Rauner and the Illinois Republican Party. The broad repudiation of his toxic ideology and his candidacy speaks louder than the hatred of one man.”

Also condemning Jones was the Republican Jewish Coalition, which said it was a mistake for Republicans not to run a candidate in the district.

“Arthur Jones is a Nazi, not a Republican,” its chairman, Norm Coleman said in a statement.

“It is a disgrace that he has won the Republican nomination in IL-03,” Coleman said. “The GOP didn’t invite Jones into the party, the only mistake was not running a candidate in an uncompetitive, safe-Democrat district.”