There are privileges and hindrances in being a political incumbent. The same is true for political campaign novices. This week, those statements were proven in the Illinois gubernatorial race between Governor Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner.
This is the time of the year when an Illinois governor signs bills that were passed in the fall Budget Session and Governor Quinn is doing a lot of that. Just yesterday, Quinn enacted legislation to allow storm water management and treatment projects to be eligible for state financial assistance and also signed legislation that improves fairness and accountability in the charter school student selection process. The day before, Quinn gave the go-ahead for a new $1.1 billion state capital construction bill targeting 210 road and bridge projects that are projected to create 14,300 jobs.
The political beauty in this is that he can have bill signing ceremonies throughout the state where he can, by merely doing his job, look like a governor. The other benefit is media related. The capital construction bill he signed funds projects in more than 25 counties, of which, the Quinn announcement will probably run in each of the local papers that serve those counties.
But, because he is an active, elected, politician with a long political history, it allows Rauner to run ads and make press statements that make everything and anything Quinn does or has done somehow look bad. For instance, Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan is not very popular downstate, so Rauner can call everything Quinn does now the Madigan/Quinn (fill in the blank). This can work even if it was good news. As far as the past is concerned, Rauner is tying Quinn to former Governor Rod Blagojevich. Quinn twice served as Blagojevich’s running-mate, although they ran separately in the Primary Elections and rarely spoke while in office together. But, seeing Quinn with Blagojevich will still resonate with some voters, so Rauner has no reason to stop doing that.
Quinn cannot beat-up Rauner on his political record because Rauner doesn’t have one. But, because of that, Rauner’s personal life becomes political/media fodder far more than a long-time politician’s would. Quinn and the media can focus on issues such as Rauner not making his 2013 tax returns public yet, or that he paid a lower tax rate in 2012 than typical Illinois residents or that he allegedly “clouted” his daughter into a prestigious school. As a comparison, there are rarely any articles about Quinn’s personal life. There isn’t much to dig for because Quinn has been around so long, everyone is familiar with him.
Unlike Governor Quinn, citizen Rauner cannot do bill signings to spread his message therefore, he has to get creative – possibly too creative. For example, Rauner may have gone too far in a television ad he released on Wednesday of this week. The ad is called ‘Headlines’ and it uses photos and the text of real newspaper articles about Governor Quinn, but the headlines above the articles are either fabricated or twisted a bit. It is dramatic, but it gives Quinn an easy “pushback” where he can question the ethics of the Rauner campaign.
That leaves the door open for Quinn’s campaign to continue to scour for any ethical blips in Rauner’s business career. The jump into politics allows every company, partnership or investment linked to Rauner to be fair game to be questioned or pilloried.
So far, this race has been what was expected – vicious and at times a little goofy. At one point, live chickens and people dressed in chicken suits were involved. But now it is getting serious. Rauner released his economic plan last week. U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama came to Chicago yesterday and pledged her and President Obama’s strong support for Quinn. New Jersey Governor and Republic Governor’s Association Chairman Chris Christie is doing the same for Rauner today.
As this race continues, the only guarantee is that it’s going to be fun to watch for some and nauseating to look at for others. But, this is business as usual in Illinois politics.