After being prodded for months, Bruce Rauner, the GOP candidate for Illinois governor has started to lay out some specifics on what he would do as governor. Yesterday, he provided a third installment of his government reform plan. Earlier this week, Illinois governor Pat Quinn signed a bill to ask for public reaction on the November 4th ballot to raise Illinois’ minimum wage to help clarify to Illinois voters what he stands for. The actions by both candidates symbolize that the battle for the Office of the Governor has really started. Punches and counter-punches will be thrown with regularity between now and Election Day.
This campaign may be hard for voters to get their arms around. Illinois has problems that grew over decades such as the multi-billion dollar pension liability issue that Quinn is trying to fix now. The problems are so dire and deep, any attempt to fix them will hurt some sector of Quinn’s liberal base.
The case can be made that Rauner is in an easier position. He has never held office, so he has no record for voters look at. So far, he has mostly said he wouldn’t do whatever Quinn does. He was against the state pension fix that is embroiled in the courts right now, but did not provide an alternative solution. He did the same thing on the City of Chicago pension reform bill this past Budget Session. So far, that strategy is working. According to a ‘We Ask America’ poll taken on June 111th, Rauner was leading by 10 points (with 16% undecided). But, it is early. Rauner barely beat Illinois Senator Kirk Dillard in the Primary Election and if Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford’s campaign hadn’t been derailed because of a scandal, Rutherford was positioned even better to beat Rauner.
There is a lot of time between now and November 4th, but Illinois Statehouse insiders will be looking at the following keys to the election:
Rauner will run the best funded campaign in Illinois gubernatorial election history. He is a millionaire who touts that he is in the top .01 percent of earners. But, because Rauner has infuriated unions so much and the National Democratic Committee wants to safeguard the state (and hold on to the home of President Barack Obama), Quinn will be well funded too. The backlash could hurt Rauner for having too much money and where it came from (personal wealth and campaign coffers).
The solutions Rauner has provided in his 3-point blueprint are somewhat misleading and incomplete. Some are even things that Quinn is already doing. At some point, Rauner will be asked to specifically describe how he will increase education funding while not keeping the current income tax rates and also fix the pension liability mess without making draconian social service cuts that hurt the elderly and children. Many insiders expect Rauner to try his best to avoid answering that question.
The long-tenured Illinois Speaker of the House is a key in Rauner’s campaign. Madigan is the real target for Rauner’s call for term-limits. Quinn has already said that even if he wins, this will be his last campaign. Rauner is already running ads and doing interviews calling everything the Quinn/Madigan whatever (i.e. the Quinn/Madigan tax increase). This may work very well downstate. But, Madigan is also the head of the Illinois Democratic Party and he will work hard to get the troops on the ground throughout the state and especially in Chicago – another major issue.
Quinn needs to win big in Chicago. It has been proven that if you win big in Chicago/Cook County and pick up another major county such as St. Clair or Madison, you can win a state-wide election. To prevent this, Rauner will have to craft a strategy that either gets low minority turn-out or somehow picks up Jim Edgar-like minority supporters in Chicago’s African-American and Hispanic communities. Something else to watch will be if Rauner marches in tomorrow’s Chicago Pride Parade. That bloc is very anti-Rauner and could be a major factor in the Chicago numbers.
Those four areas are not the only things that will be important. A major factor will be Rauner’s ability to assemble a state-wide network of ground troops as a new comer. He has the money for television ads, but the vote tally rises with people knocking on doors. Quinn already has that. Another factor will be campaigning experience. Seasoned politicians like Pat Quinn know that the microphone is always on and Rauner has already made gaffes on what his position is on minimum wage. Rauner may make some other audible mistakes that Quinn would pounce on. Rauner will also need extensive debate coaching. Rauner has been able to control the message and not talk about social issues very much. In a debate, he will have to.
Sometimes political campaigns can be described as races and sometimes as fights. This is already starting to look like not just a fight, but a steel-cage match. For Illinois Statehouse insiders this is akin to being ring-side at an Ali-Frazier match. But for most voters, it may be so nasty that it turns them off. The next four months will at least be interesting.