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CHICAGO — Governor Pritzker has not yet launched his re-election bid but Republicans are already preparing for the political fight.

Republican State Senator Darren Bailey of Xenia has announced his bid for governor. He is one of two GOP primary candidates with more expected to join in the coming months. The conservative downstate lawmaker, who last year opposed Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, is promising a grassroots campaign against political elites.

“What I’ve witnessed in the last two and a half years, I’m just simply not satisfied, and I don’t think anyone else is in the state and the direction that Illinois is going,” Bailey said.

Bailey, a farmer from Xenia, a village of about 400 people, runs a private Christian school with his wife and says he stands for the “common average person in the state.”

Last spring, after raising his profile challenging Governor Pritzker’s statewide stay-at-home order, Bailey won a temporary restraining order freeing himself of the restrictions.

“This is a victory for freedom. This is a victory for the people of Illinois,” Bailey said.

Later his suit, consolidated with others, was dismissed. Bailey says he believes everything in the state should be open, however, with no capacity limits, no restrictions.

“I don’t believe government has any role in mandating and closing anyone,” Bailey said.

During a special session last May, Bailey was expelled from the House floor for refusing to wear a mask. He’d later return and agree to obey the rules. As a state rep, Bailey joined a group called the Eastern Bloc, which pushed for Chicago to become its own state separate from Illinois. But Bailey says he’s not advocating for that.

“I believe Illinois is better off together,” Bailey said.

Bailey joins former State Senator Paul Schimpf in the GOP primary. Both men are placing a special emphasis on courting downstate voters. Pat Brady, a moderate Republican and former party chairman, says the candidates will have to connect with the Chicago area GOP.

“If you’re actually going to win in the state, even though you may have a lot of appeal downstate, you’ve gotta appeal in the suburbs and somewhat in the city or the numbers just aren’t there,” said Pat Brady, former Illinois GOP Chairman.

Veteran Republican operatives expect a crowded GOP primary because many in the party sense Governor Pritzker is vulnerable.