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Illinois State Fair frames Pat Quinn vs Bruce Rauner race

state fair cuisine
state fair cuisine
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Illinois State Fair, which ends today, takes on special importance during a state-wide election cycle. It is similar to a relay race where it is the third leg, leading up to the final push in October. Earlier in the race, a gaffe or snafu can be accounted for. But that third leg, the state fair, is where people start to focus and mistakes can be costly, critical or even fatal.

The Illinois State Fair started August 7th and since then, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and his GOP opponent Bruce Rauner have been very vocal and active. In terms of staging, Wednesday was Governor’s Day and Thursday was Republican Day. Both candidates used those days to rally the troops and throw out the “red meat” to the hordes of elected officials from both parties that come from all 102 Illinois counties as they dined on corn dogs, lemon shake-ups, funnel cakes and anything that can be fried..

Instead of the typical event, Quinn’s Governor’s Day was more subtle, opting for hosting a leadership breakfast. But, he used it to pound his theme of Rauner being out of touch with everyday people. Even Secretary of State Jesse White took a swipe, accusing Rauner of trying to buy the Chicago African-American vote. The importance is that probably only White and Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka traverse the typical party polarization in Illinois.

Later in the week, Quinn continued as the story about Rauner having money stashed in the Cayman Islands grew in the media. Rauner also had to deal with continuing requests to release his personal tax returns, which is now political candidate 101. If you don’t, voters may think you are hiding something. The Rauner campaign is expected to release the documents after they are filed on October 15th. There may be something there for Quinn to pounce on with only 19 days left before the election. The media definitely has October 15, 2014 marked on the calendar.

Rauner had a traditional and well attended Republican Day. He was able to rally a full body of supporters on the fair grounds. He stayed on message, connecting Quinn to Rod Blagojevich and criticizing everything and anything Quinn does. For example, when Quinn announced on Republican Day that the Illinois unemployment rate fell to 6.8 percent in July with 11,200 jobs created last month, Rauner’s campaign railed that “celebrating today’s job numbers is like cheering a touchdown when you’re down 35 points with two minutes left.” When Quinn fired the underperforming firm that ran the Illinois lottery on Saturday, Rauner countered that it was just a political move - even though it goes against the argument that a private sector approach to running government operations is better than running them in-house.

Per various polls, Rauner may be leading by between as few as a statistical tie 4 percent or by as much as 14 percent. A lot can happen during the third leg, including the start of debates. But in this case it is another point of contention. Quinn, an experienced political debater wants as many as possible. The political novice Rauner hasn’t committed to any. That, the slew of ads by both candidates and the unprecedented amounts of money are making this a very unique race. It will be interesting to see if either candidate drops the baton before the anchor leg.

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