With less than a month to go before the Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary for mayor of Chicago, Rep. Chuy Garcia is using his first negative first ad to argue former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas opposes abortion rights and aligns too closely with Republicans. Garcia’s camp tells Capitol Fax that the commercial, which does not mention incumbent Lori Lightfoot, will air on TV sometime in the future.
The spot features a narrator warning that Vallas won’t protect abortion access because “Vallas is a Republican.” That statement is followed up with a clip of the candidate saying, “I’m more of a Republican than a Democrat,” before it shows footage from that same interview of Vallas declaring, “Fundamentally, I oppose abortion.” The rest of the ad promotes Garcia as a trustworthy supporter of women’s rights.
Vallas quickly cried foul, telling Politico’s Shia Kapos that Garcia used clips from this 2009 interview with conservative host Jeff Berkowitz “out of context.” When Kapos asked him what the context was for the line “[f]undamentally, I oppose abortion,” a Vallas spokesperson said he was talking about his Greek Orthodox religion. His team also released another clip from that conversation where Berkowitz asked, “You think a woman has a right to choose, abortion shouldn’t be illegal?” to which Vallas responded, “I don’t think we should legislate against a woman’s right to choose.”
Vallas, who was Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s running mate during their unsuccessful 2014 race, also took issue with attacks on his party affiliation. Vallas, who also campaigned in the 2002 primary for governor (a contest he lost to the not-yet-infamous Rod Blagojevich), said, “I am a lifelong Democrat who has always been 100% pro-choice.” All of the candidates competing in this solidly blue city identify as Democrats including wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson, who voted for Trump in 2016 and ran for the Senate four years later as the candidate of the Willie Wilson Party.
Garcia isn’t the only candidate who has worked to portray Vallas as anti-abortion. Lightfoot recently told the crowd at a Planned Parenthood forum that Vallas had remained silent for months after the repeal of Roe V. Wade, arguing, “Shame on you, Paul, for not talking about women’s rights until today.” Lightfoot, though, hasn’t aired any ads attacking Vallas ahead of the nonpartisan primary, and she probably won’t: The mayor recently said, “[F]olks, I would love to have Paul Vallas as my runoff challenger.”
Lightfoot may get her wish, as a new survey from Cor Strategies, a Republican pollster that says it has no ties to any of the candidates, shows that very scenario taking place. The mayor takes first with 23%, while the firm has Vallas beating out Garcia 21-13 for the crucial second-place spot in the likely April 4 runoff; Wilson and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson take 8% and 7%, respectively, with 20% undecided and the balance split between four more candidates.
While this Cor poll is good news for Lightfoot and Vallas, though, it’s hard to know how on-target it is right now. Other surveys this year have shown several very different outcomes, including a fourth-place finish for Lightfoot and a tight five-way fight for the two general election spots.