PEORIA — To a standing ovation from a capacity crowd, Gov. JB Pritzker told central Illinois residents he was fighting for them.
"Every day I wake up thinking, 'What is it I need to do to make your lives better?'" Pritzker said at the Peoria County Democrats' annual Presidents Day Dinner.
Such events are usually filled with red meat speeches, politicians in friendly territory speaking to a group of core supporters.
Here that meant putting emphasis on the effort to pass an increase in the state's minimum wage, which had stayed at the same level for nearly a decade. And it meant applauding core constituencies like organized labor.
But Pritzker also took a more serious tone at many points.
Early in his speech, he paid tribute to the dead and injured from Friday's shooting at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora and saluted the police officers who responded to the emergency.
And, 40 hours before taking the lectern to propose his first budget, Pritzker said the situation inside many state agencies is "tough," with a "depressed" state government in need of repair.
"We've got to make sure that we ... truly turn state government into a delivery mechanism for the services you all expect it to deliver," he said, citing the need to be efficient and effective in that delivery to spend taxpayer money wisely.
Pritzker also told attendees that his ties to Peoria extend to before his campaign officially began.
One of his first hires, as he explored whether or not to enter the governor's race, was political operative Nikki Budzinski, a Peoria native.
Her early advice to him, Pritzker related, included not just the need to visit Peoria, but the need to go there for an event — the first Women's March in January 2017 — rather than attend the Chicago version.
"'If the people of Peoria like you, you have a chance,'" he said she told him, two years before he became the first Democratic candidate for governor to win Peoria County since 1968.
And he returned to a theme he expressed repeatedly during his campaign, that the state is more than just its biggest city.
"This is not a state of one county in the northeast corner of Illinois. This is a state of 102 counties," he told the audience, pledging to continue efforts to elect Democrats up and down the ticket in local and state elections — and then challenging precinct committee office holders to each recruit another person for their job, building the party from the lowest-rung position on up.
"Blue waves don't happen (just) because you hear about it and see it on TV," Pritzker said.