Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is tapping his personal wealth to try to enshrine abortion access in battleground states, making an election-year push to support ballot measures and expanding his national footprint in the Democratic Party, within which he is regarded as a potential 2028 presidential candidate.
Think Big America, a nonprofit founded and solely funded by Pritzker, is the largest backer of an effort to put abortion to a direct vote in Nevada, where the group has donated $1 million and added an on-the-ground adviser. Pritzker’s organization is also supporting a ballot measure push in Arizona and evaluating other states where it could get involved, including Florida and Montana, a top Senate battleground, according to a spokeswoman.
The strategy reflects the broader push by ambitious Democrats to involve themselves in this year’s election efforts, including on the issue of abortion rights. Pritzker, a billionaire businessman from the family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain, passed legal protections for out-of-state abortion patients as Illinois governor and is now putting his money into hotly contested races elsewhere — focusing on an issue important to the Democratic base and central to the party’s general election message.
With Think Big America, Pritkzer is “taking this fundamental fight nationwide to do everything he can to ensure all women, not just those in Illinois, have the personal freedoms they are owed,” said Mike Ollen, a senior adviser to the group.
While efforts to put abortion measures on the 2024 ballot are underway in about a dozen states, the issue could be particularly consequential in Arizona and Nevada because they are among a handful of places that will decide the presidential race. They also have hotly contested Senate races this year.
“Anywhere where you have one of these on the ballot, you’re going to bring out a pro-choice segment of the electorate,” said Peter Koltak, a consultant for the ballot measure push in Nevada.
Politicians eyeing a White House bid often get involved in key states beyond their home base, and other Democrats viewed as 2028 contenders have made similar moves. California Gov. Gavin Newsom last year launched a nonprofit, seeded with campaign money, to push back on abortion bans and other conservative policies in red states. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is fundraising for federal candidates through a political action committee. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear — in the spotlight after his 2023 reelection in a bright-red state — recently launched a group backing Democrats nationwide.
Many Democrats see Pritzker as a potential 2028 presidential candidate. He has sought to expand his footprint beyond Illinois, recently appearing in Iowa on behalf of the Biden campaign on caucus day for the Republicans. Pritzker, like others, has brushed off questions about presidential aspirations and is acting as a surrogate for President Biden.
Voters in states across the political spectrum have backed abortion access repeatedly since the Supreme Court overturned Roe in 2022 and ruled that the procedure was no longer a constitutional right. An especially striking victory came last fall in Ohio, where voters approved a ballot measure amending their state constitution to guarantee the right to an abortion — rebuking Republican lawmakers who had passed a ban on the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy.
Pritzker got involved in that effort as well, donating $750,000 to the cause and then in October launching Think Big America, which also advised and put money behind the Ohio initiative.
Kellie Copeland, the executive director of Pro-Choice Ohio, said she kept a voice mail Pritzker left her after the Ohio measure passed and believed the issue was personal for him. Pritzker sometimes talks about attending abortion rights rallies growing up with his mom. “They didn’t come in and big-foot it — it was like, hey, we’re here to help,” Copeland said of Think Big America.
While Copeland and other advocates are focused on policy, many strategists believe ballot measures on abortion can boost Democratic turnout in 2024, helping to counteract the low voter enthusiasm now raising red flags. Democrats campaigned heavily on abortion rights in the 2022 midterms, when they outperformed dismal expectations.
Direct votes on abortion rights are on the 2024 ballot in two solidly Democratic states, Maryland and New York, where advocates want to enshrine existing guarantees of access in the state constitutions. Other states with possible ballot measures to expand or restrict abortion rights include Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, Florida, Missouri, Arkansas, South Dakota and Iowa.
Think Big America has hired Brendan Summers as its consultant on the ground in Nevada. As in other states, the Nevada campaign has met some legal hurdles: A district judge rejected the proposed language in November, and its advocates are appealing. But another version was cleared last month for signature gathering, and supporters are optimistic about its chances of passing in November.
Abortion is legalized in Nevada through 24 weeks of pregnancy — around the point at which a fetus is viable outside the womb — by way of a popular vote held in 1990. The 2024 ballot proposal would put abortion rights into the state constitution and would need to pass again in 2026 by a simple majority to take effect.
Pritzker’s nonprofit has also put $250,000 behind the coalition supporting a ballot measure in Arizona that would make abortion a right in the state constitution, and the group is part of its steering committee. Arizona has banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and courts are also weighing a much older state law that prohibits almost all abortions.