Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker tries to turn Biden’s age into an asset

Last week, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker drew national headlines after writing a strongly worded letter to President Joe Biden saying his White House needed to step up action on the migrant surge in Chicago.

But this week, Pritzker rose to Biden’s defense on one of the most fraught issues of the president’s re-election: age.

The governor’s strategy is a notable attempt by a prominent Democrat to go on offense on the issue, which has widely been seen as one of the president’s weak points.

Pritzker, who also serves as a re-election surrogate to Biden, took on the issue in an address to Wisconsin Democrats at a fundraising dinner Wednesday night.

Before a group of about 200 people, including elected officials like Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Gov. Tony Evers, Pritzker laid out a case of how both former President Donald Trump and Biden have aged, arguing Trump has grown toxic while Biden grew into a “gem.” Pritzker also argued that Democrats shouldn’t shy away from the issue.

“I’ve thought a lot about why people care so much about age in this coming election and I want to talk to you about it,” Pritzker said, according to audio of the event shared with NBC News by the Pritzker’s campaign. “We need to stop dismissing concerns about the physical age of a candidate, especially when that concern comes from a young person. Instead, what people are afraid of is the age of the candidates’ ideas.”

Pritzker then compared and contrasted Trump and Biden, including being part of a party that embraced “old” ideas like restricting abortion.

“We have two examples of how people age at the top of our presidential tickets in Donald Trump and Joe Biden,” he continued. “It’s not just that Donald Trump doesn’t have Joe Biden’s character, it’s that as he grew old, he had a chance to take all his life experiences and use them to become someone empathetic, courageous and kind. And instead he chose to be cruel, cowardly and small.”

In a text message to NBC News, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung responded: “Who’s J.B. Pritzker?”

At 80, Biden’s age has become one of the defining issues of his reelection campaign, even as Trump, his leading opponent at the moment, according to polls, is 77. Dozens of voters recently told NBC News they considered Biden’s age to be more of an issue even though there is not much of a difference.

Pritzker made the remarks at the state Democratic Party’s Founders Day Reception, an annual fundraiser where labor leaders, donors and elected officials gather.

A spokesperson for Pritzker said the speech and messaging were pulled together independently of the Biden campaign.

Pritzker went on to argue that Biden had made age his “friend” and used his years to become “a gem of a human.”

In a September NBC News poll, three-quarters of those surveyed said they were concerned about Biden’s age and mental fitness. Of those polled, 59% cited major concerns, and another 15% had moderate concerns that Biden lacked the mental and physical health to be president for a second term.

The remarks come a week after Pritzker made waves when he wrote his letter to the White House complaining of a “lack of intervention and coordination at the border.” He pleaded for additional federal backing in the wake of a migrant surge in Chicago.

Pritzker, who has twice been elected statewide in the Land of Lincoln, is widely considered on the shortlist to run for president in 2028. The billionaire is a longtime Democratic donor, including to the state party, to which he gave more than $1.1 million in 2022 in addition to donating to Evers’ successful re-election campaign.

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