Every politician with any ambition — which is almost all of them — looks in the mirror and sees someone who belongs in a higher office. J.B. Pritzker is no exception. Whether Joe Biden wins or loses this November, the Democratic Party will need a new candidate next time around. And our governor is already positioning himself for a run.

For one, Pritzker has leaned into the Democrats’ strongest issue of the Biden era, abortion rights, which will almost certainly still be salient come 2028. He has declared Illinois “the most progressive state” on reproductive rights and made it an abortion haven by signing legislation that allows out-of-state medical professionals to perform the procedure here and shields patients from attempts by other states to prevent them from traveling to Illinois for abortions.

He also made a big move last fall when he established Think Big America, a 501(c)(4) devoted to protecting reproductive rights across the country. It’s a dark-money organization, so Pritzker doesn’t have to reveal how much he donated to get it started, but it was enough to support abortion-rights ballot measures in Ohio, Nevada, and Arizona. (The Ohio initiative passed last year; Nevada and Arizona will vote in November.) Think Big America has helped him establish his bona fides on the issue nationally. That’s going to matter to Democratic primary voters — and to moderates in November. (So will passing an assault weapons ban that stood up to a court challenge.)

Last year, Think Big America donated $250,000 to four candidates for the Virginia Senate and the state’s Democratic Party, helping elect an abortion-rights majority in the legislature. Pritzker’s reward: an invitation to give the keynote speech at a get-out-the-vote rally before this March’s primary, which brought his message and his name to another purplish state. Pritzker has also made appearances in Michigan as a surrogate for Biden. Ahead of 2028, he would be able to use his billions to go on the air and define himself to primary voters in ways unavailable to his opponents.

At this early moment, say political consultants, Pritzker is one of the three leading Democratic presidential candidates for 2028, along with Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer and California governor Gavin Newsom. “He has to be considered in the top tier of potential White House aspirants for two primary reasons, and neither of them is money,” says Pritzker supporter Eric Adelstein of Chicago-based AL Media. “Yes, money is certainly an advantage for him, but message and personality win presidential races. All the major initiatives Democrats care about, Governor Pritzker has been able to enact [legislation], from protecting choice to gun safety to childcare to education funding. And he has the fiscal chops to say he did it by balancing budgets.”

Pritzker has another advantage: This year’s Democratic convention will be held in his home state. As Illinois’s dominant Democrat, Pritzker, not Mayor Brandon Johnson, will be the man to see in August. He’ll use his status as host to introduce himself to power brokers from all over the country — and make a featured speech on national TV.

On top of that, many Pritzker alumni have gone on to bigger jobs, like Quentin Fulks, who was his deputy campaign manager in 2018 and is now Biden’s deputy campaign manager. It would be no surprise to see them support their former boss for president in 2028. His chief of staff, Anne Caprara, was executive director of the super PAC Priorities USA, giving her the experience to run a national campaign.

“Yes, money is certainly an advantage for him, but message and personality win presidential races.”

— political consultant Eric Adelstein of AL Media

“He’s got operatives that are ready to go,” says Kevin Lampe of Kurth Lampe Worldwide, a local strategic communications firm. “He has all these friends from the governor’s race — all these young kids he introduced to politics — and they’re spread around the country. One operative that I know in particular, her first race outside of Illinois was South Carolina, so she already knows that state.”

If Pritzker has a disadvantage, says a local consultant who asked not to be named, it’s that he’s a rich white man in a party that sees itself as a champion of the underdog. The Republicans nominate princes: Bush, McCain, Romney, Trump. Democrats prefer middle-class backgrounds. “His big problem is he doesn’t have a niche that separates him from the other candidates,” the consultant adds. Whitmer, meanwhile, is a successful swing-state governor who won reelection by more than 10 points in 2022. Newsom is a big-state governor with the capacity to raise big money in California.

And while Pritzker has burnished his progressive credentials by signing legislation like the SAFE-T Act, which abolished cash bail, it’s unclear whether that will translate to support from left-wing primary voters. Says the consultant: “I think J.B.’s at risk of being seen as establishment by the people who are now aggressively pounding the street to say stop the war in Gaza.”

In 2020, though, the establishment won in the form of Joe Biden, thanks to the moderate Black voters in South Carolina who overwhelmingly backed him, saving his campaign. WBGX talk radio host Maze Jackson points out that Pritzker has done well with Black voters in Illinois: In the 2018 Democratic primary for governor, many white progressives voted for left-wing Daniel Biss, while Black voters supported Pritzker. He could further improve his standing with that crucial Democratic bloc, if, as expected, he leaves the governorship in 2026 and champions his lieutenant governor, Juliana Stratton, as his successor.

“Black voters are much more pragmatic,” Jackson says. “They want to be with the winner. Pritzker’s got a presidential résumé right now. If you were to ask the masses, they want somebody moderate and middle, someone that gets the bread-and-butter issues. As wealthy as he is, he does not present as a fat cat.”

Pritzker has a strong progressive record but isn’t seen as an ideologue — a winning combination, perhaps, for electability-minded primary voters. But even if he can earn the 2028 nomination, whether he wins the presidency depends a lot on who wins the current race. If it’s Trump, four more years of his clownish bluster will turn voters toward a Democrat. If it’s Biden, well, only once in the last 80 years has the same party won three straight presidential elections. Pritzker may have the money and the résumé to be president, but in politics, as they say, timing is everything.