Friday, August 15, 2014

Race of the Day- Illinois Governor

81 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Leans Republican

Out of all the races that I will be talking about on here, I certainly am exposed to the most news about the hotly contested and rhetorically nasty Gubernatorial race here in my home state of Illinois. I am definitely not going to be able to cover every detail that I should, but I am just going to try to get as much in during a reasonable amount of time it will take me to type these stream of consciousness thoughts.

Let me just begin by saying that the great state of Illinois is in desperate need of change. When I was a child, the state was politically competitive on the federal level, but elected Republicans as Governor for quite a stretch. Over the past dozen years, Democrats have controlled state government by overwhelming margins and few can say that Illinois is in good shape these days. Our economy has been struggled, taxes are high, businesses are leaving, a public employee pension crisis looms, and perhaps worst of all, innocent children in certain neighborhoods within the world-class city of Chicago are killed in the crossfire of gang warfare in alarming numbers. A change is definitely needed. The person who won the Republican nomination is not the person I voted for in the primary and truth be told, there is much about him that I remain skeptical on. The state must dump Pat Quinn and elect Bruce Rauner though if we are to even have a chance. Right now, it seems like a lot of my fellow voters agree with me and Quinn is poised to become a rare Illinois Governor to be booted by the voters. We thought that four years ago though and it did not come to pass. This race is far from over and by Election Day, it could once again look like a tossup. My hunch is that there are several key differences though between this year and 2010 which will bode well for the GOP. Nonetheless, no Republican in Illinois or anywhere in America ought to be overconfident about the challenge.

Whomever is elected Governor is going to have quite a difficult job over the next four years. One may wonder why one would even want it. After all, the last two Governors of the state were convicted of multiple federal felonies and have served or are continuing to serve time in the joint. Democrat Pat Quinn certainly owes his job to that factor. A veteran political gadfly of sorts, Quinn had held elected office, but also lost a bunch of elections, primary and general, when he emerged as the 2002 Lt. Governor nominee in a crowded field. The time was ripe for Democrats to take back the Governor's Mansion after many years, due to the immense unpopularity of the soon to be indicted GOP Governor George Ryan. Congressman Rod Blagojevich won the job and Quinn was along for the ride as his number two. Blago's tenure as Governor was rocky from Day 1, but even amid his own federal investigations, he was able to massively outspend a GOP opponent and win reelection in 2006. Once again, Quinn was on the ticket with him. The two men did not work closely together and rarely even spoke, but publicly, Quinn always vouched for the integrity and honesty of Blagojevich, to whom his political future was tied. A lot of Democrats openly stated in 2006 that they were voting to reelect the ticket because they expected Blagojevich to have to leave office and Quinn would be taking over anyway.

That is precisely what happened when in December 2008, Blagojevich was arrested in his Chicago home by the Feds for a wide variety of crimes caught on tape, including conspiring to sell Barack Obama's (bleeping) Golden Senate seat. Before Blago was eventually convicted and sent to prison, the Democrat controlled Illinois General Assembly voted nearly unanimously (his sister in law was the only dissenting vote) to impeach him and remove him from office. After that historic event, Quinn was finally Governor. To those who had followed his career over the years, it was sort of hard to believe.

Taking over after the state crisis, Quinn struggled politically in many of the same ways that Blagojevich did. Simply put, longtime House Speaker Mike Madigan, who is also the State Democrat Chairman, considers himself more powerful than any Governor, and Democrat infighting persisted, as Republicans were basically left on the sidelines. It looked like Quinn would struggle to win the 2010 Democrat primary, but he narrowly hung on. The GOP primary that year was crowded and the finish would be close to a four way tie. The eventual winner, State Senator Bill Brady prevailed over second place finisher, State Senator Kirk Dillard by just 193 voters. Conventional wisdom was that Dillard, from Chicagoland, would have easily beaten Quinn in a general election, but the very conservative Brady, from Downstate, would have a more difficult task. Nonetheless, Quinn remained so unpopular that Brady led most polls throughout that year. Up to Election Day, Quinn looked like a goner, but he once again narrowly escaped political oblivion and won a full term as Governor.

Let's briefly look at why that was such a surprise result. Brady won almost every county in the state, but Quinn dominated in Chicago dominated Cook County, and Brady, who did not focus on winning votes in Cook County, even in Republican leaning suburbs, paid the price for that campaign strategy. He also found himself at a financial disadvantage against the incumbent. Two ways polls showed Brady ahead, but there happened to be other candidates on the ballot, including a controversial but highly talked about candidate who ran as an Independent. Voters, especially in the Chicago area, who wanted to vote for someone other than Quinn, but who could not stomach voting for a Pro-Life Republican such as Brady, who was seen as being too focused on social issues, had another option. How that candidate got to be on the ballot after a brief stint as Quinn's officially nominated Democrat running-mate is a story for four years ago, but it is worth mentioning that the GOP primary winner for Lt. Governor turned out to be of little positive value for Brady and the ticket.

Quinn's political problems have only increased after he was no longer an accidental Governor. People still grumbled about his leadership style and perceived incompetence, but the longtime political figure who always fancied himself as a populist reformer has taken even more hits for his Administration possibly engaging in corruption of its own in a variety of ways. The thing that has gotten the most headlines involve the mismanagement of state anti-violence funds that might have gone to gin up the African-American vote for Quinn in order to secure his narrow 2010 election.

Once again, it looked like Quinn would be toast at the polls. For months, State Attorney General Lisa Madigan appeared poised to get into the race and seemed to be a heavy favorite over the incumbent. Ultimately though, she passed, as she had on campaigns for higher office before. Apparently, she was unable to work out a deal with her father, none other than Michael Madigan, in order to get him to step aside and allow her to run without questions regarding conflicts of interest and too much power invested in one family.

Even before Madigan surprised many by getting out, people were surprised when another famous name got in. Bill Daley has been a Commerce Secretary and White House Chief of Staff but his last name is of course legendary in Chicago politics. He seems to perennially be mentioned as a candidate, but never runs. This time, he actually took the plunge, and announced his candidacy for Governor. However, his entry was short-lived as he determined that life as a candidate was not for him. Suddenly, Quinn, was left without a major primary opponent. It was remarked by many that he was perhaps the luckiest politician in American history.

While Quinn did easily win the March primary this year, his sole opponent, community activist Tio Hardiman took over a quarter of the vote, despite having no money and receiving almost no media attention. He even carried several Downstate counties. That shows how much difficulty Quinn is in, even among Democrats, when an African-American anti-gun activist from Chicago, who had recently been arrested for domestic violence, beat him among rural areas in Downstate Illinois.

Now, let's move on the four way GOP primary. Brady was back, making a third consecutive try for the Governorship, and as close as he got the last time, he was left with the lingering disappointment of having fallen short against Quinn. Dillard was also back for another go, but took several steps to move to the right in an attempt to win over conservative primary voters, after his crushingly narrow primary loss four years ago. State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, a hard-working but quirky politician had won a statewide campaign and seemed to be a real threat for the nomination and against Quinn. Also in the race was first time candidate Bruce Rauner, a multi-millionaire venture capitalist who was well known in philanthropic circles but whose political involvement was mostly as a donor to Democrat candidates. Much was made as to how Rauner was a close friend to a famous Democrat, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Rauner's willingness to spend millions of dollars of his own money on his campaign for Governor certainly shook up the race almost immediately. He spent lavishly on the primary campaign attacking his opponents as political insiders who were part of the problem in Springfield (after also perhaps having been behind a shadowy effort to keep a GOP Congressman out of the race) and by dominating the airwaves, Rauner started to lead the GOP polls.

The candidate with the second most money in the field was Rutherford, but his chances diminished virtually overnight when he held a press conference to deny (then undisclosed) allegations that a former male staffer in the Treasurer's office was accusing him of political malfeasance and also of sexual harassment. Rumors had circulated for years about the personal life of the unmarried Rutherford and why this never became a huge national story, Rutherford's reactions, which included commissioning an internal investigation and then refusing to release the results made it clear that he would be unable to put the issue behind him. I will note that Rutherford's accuser, was a Democrat who went to work for his personal friend Rutherford, and then after making the allegations, got another job with a Democrat in Cook County. Perhaps one day, Rutherford will be able to clear his name and may be able to mount a political comeback in Illinois, but there are many questions that remained unanswered. Immediately, Rutherford claimed that he was certain that Rauner was behind a sleazy campaign to sully him, but was not able to produce much evidence to suggest as such. Ultimately, Rutherford would finish in last place in the primary, in single digits.

After Rutherford's campaign imploded, many establishment Republicans (myself included), quickly switched to Dillard as the best hope to stop Rauner, whom was viewed with suspicion and also fear that he could be too easily demonized by the Democrats. Teachers unions and other public employee unions in the state had been angry at Governor Quinn for quite some time, but they really feared and hated Rauner in a way that cannot be understated. All sorts of Democrats were told to enter the GOP primary in an effort to stop Rauner. Dillard, who continued to trail in the polls, put together an odd coalition of mainstream Republicans concerned with electability, Democrat union members (who may very well have preferred him to Quinn), and Evangelical Christians who were satisfied with Dillard's bona fides on their key issues. Meanwhile, Rauner  was winning endorsements from GOP groups, including the Cook County party organization, despite claims that he was basically buying the groups with cash donations. His supporters included moderate Republicans who appreciated the fact that the pro-choice Rauner said he did not have a social issues agenda as well as Tea Party conservatives who wanted to vote for someone who would be considered as much of an outsider as possible.

Rauner would win the primary, but it turned out to be a lot closer than many expected. For the second time in a row Dillard finished in second place, and his supporters were left fearing the most electable candidate was narrowly turned away. The surprisingly close win for Rauner likely motivated his team to focus on building a ground game for the general election.

We have to also mention the running-mates now. After the mess in both parties in 2010, a new law was made in which candidates would pick their running-mates before the primary and run together on that ballot. Quinn's Lt. Governor (who he picked as a replacement in 2010 and despite having a famous name is considered sort of a political lightweight) basically gave up on his reelection when it looked like Lisa Madigan would run, and she sought other office instead. That gave an opening to Quinn, who was expected to pick an African-American woman but instead picked a fellow middle-aged bald white man from Chicago.

Paul Vallas was well-known and respected for once being in charge of the Chicago Public Schools, and he finished second in the 2002 Gubernatorial primary behind Blagojevich. He then left Illinois to lead other school districts around the country, including Philadelphia, but in 2010, he seemed poised to return to the Windy City and run for Cook County Board President.. as a Republican. His flirtation with the GOP did not amount to anything though and Vallas was still finishing out a contract with a Connecticut school district when he formally became the nominee for Lt. Governor.

Republican candidates also picked running-mates, but to many it seemed like the B team at best. The person lucky enough to have signed up with Rauner is Evelyn Sanguinetti, an attorney and City Council member in the suburban DuPage County location of Wheaton. She is the daughter of immigrants from Cuba and Ecuador and had some ties to Tea Party groups in the state when Rauner picked her. She comes across as earnest and likable but the comparisons to Sarah Palin began almost immediately. She has already made her fair share of curious statements and malapropisms on the campaign trail but there is no evidence to suggest that she is poised to do a great deal of damage to Rauner. Vallas may be considered a lot more qualified among the two Lt. Gov hopefuls to take charge, but he is considered a bit of a loose cannon himself and was a very unconventional pick for Quinn for a variety of reasons. If those two debate, it could be quite interesting.

The Quinn campaign began its attack ads against Rauner on Primary Night, even before his victory was secure. They are basically trying to emulate the Obama strategy over Mitt Romney. In fact, Rauner has a lot more money than Romney, and it comes to no surprise that they are attacking his business dealings (which also came up in the GOP primary) and painting him as an out of touch "billionaire" who puts profits ahead of people and who hides his money in the Cayman Islands, etc. etc. They even tried to run ads portraying him as Mr. Burns from "The Simpsons" before running afoul of copyright violations.

Obama beat Romney in the Democrat's home state of Illinois by 17 points in 2012. His party is hoping that the class warfare stuff is strong enough to at least deliver a narrow victory for Quinn. The rhetoric has been quite harsh as Rauner has recently been described by Quinn as "unpatriotic" for having a Cayman Islands bank account and as a "deserter" by a Congresswoman for the same reason. Rauner has focused on trying to make inroads with the state's African-American community and politicians have described those outreach attempts as trying to "buy votes."  A pro-Quinn journalist has compared some prominent African-American Democrats who endorsed Rauner to Jews who collaborated with Nazis. By the way, Wikipedia lists Rauner as being Jewish, but I saw a Chicago newspaper profile earlier this year that has him as a member of a Protestant group. I wish I knew for certain, but as a Jewish Republican in Illinois, I am leaning towards thinking that Rauner is not also Jewish. He definitely does have a stellar record though of contributing to Israel and Jewish-American causes. G-d bless him for that.

Since the primary, Rauner has continued to spend heavily from his own fortune to run ads, ones that are both critical of Quinn, with the plethora of material available there, as well as positive spots. One that featured Rauner sitting with his wife, who describes herself as a proud Democrat, seemed to impress a lot of people. Anecdotally, I have definitely heard from people in my area who are certainly not active Republicans, but are impressed with Rauner and want to give him a chance of fixing the state. Maybe they like the way he is seen riding a Harley or talking about wearing a cheap watch and how he rarely is seen in a tie. Political observers (on both sides of the aisle) see a lot of political posturing for Rauner with those things but to others, he may seem more like a man of the people. Also, some believe that a man that rich can at least never be "bought." That might be why the polls have continued to look positive for the challenger. Some partisan polls done for Quinn show a close race, but with the incumbent still south of 40 percent. Polls done for organizations and media entities are now showing Rauner with a double digit lead and very close to 50 percent of the vote. It is true that Quinn was behind as well in the polls at this point in 2010, but the third party protest vote is far less likely to occur this year and thus this year's polls may be more accurate.

The race has been nasty and will probably get even worse. Voter turnout may ultimately be quite low. A lot of Democrats have little good to say about Quinn but fear Rauner far more and thus will vote for the incumbent. A lot of Republicans, especially on the right, have nothing but suspicion for Rauner, but they are mostly being encouraged to look past those doubts and vote for him. As for the general public, campaign tactics of both sides are likely to turn them off. Despite what will be a war of negative ads on the airwaves, both campaigns have hired "mascots" to turn up at their opponent's events in order to attract tv cameras. The Quinn people have recently debuted "Baron Von Moneybags" as a way to mock Rauner, while his campaign for months now have utilized a fairly creepy figure called "Quinnochio" as a way to point out what they see as various lies that have come from the Governor.

Again, I could go on and on with this. Things look very promising for Republicans having a chance to ride a wave of voter discontent with Quinn towards victory. In fact, there may be many other races throughout the state where Quinn is a drag on his fellow Democrats. Nonetheless, Illinois is still very Democrat and Rauner as Governor is something that many on the left, such as public employee unions absolutely loathe. They see what has happened in Indiana and Wisconsin with Republican Governors and that is the last thing they want. Democrats have established Election Day registration as a way to try to increase their turnout and various ballot referendum measures, favorable to liberals, will appear for Cook County voters this year. At the same time, a court struck down a Rauner backed term limits (which is a major focal point of his campaign) ballot measure. It remains to be seen just how involved Barack and Michelle Obama will be down the homestretch in efforts to save Quinn.

If the election were held today, I have little doubt that Rauner would win. There is still a long way to go though and we will see just how strong class warfare and Alinksy style campaign tactics are in its effectiveness in blue state Illinois. It may be a lost cause to get voters to rally behind Quinn in a positive way at this point, but they certainly think they can do a lot more to hurt Rauner's image. If the polls are to be believed, it has not worked yet, as Rauner is ahead and is seen as the "reformer" in the race.

I will be shocked if this does not get a good deal closer before all is said and done. Losing elections used to be fairly common for Quinn, but he has had the Luck of the Irish since 2002. There are a lot of reasons why I believed that Rauner was not the most electable Republican in the field but his ability and willingness to spend perhaps more money than all but a few politicians in American history is not one of them. That is one of the key reasons why 2014 is shaping up to be different than 2010. Rauner should dominate Downstate Illinois as Bill Brady did four years ago, but the Chicago native GOP nominee is putting a whole lot more effort in the population centers of Cook and its Collar Counties this cycle as opposed to the last time. That might make all the difference.

Perhaps I am inclined to have some natural bias for the Party of Lincoln in the Land of Lincoln. I would turn out to be wrong in the past few Augusts of Gubernatorial elections, but things are so bad for Quinn that I find it hard to see a legitimate reason why he is the favorite to win. Right now, it does not even look like a Tossup race. I am certainly far from convinced this race is over but in a state where millionaire self-funders usually have lost, Rauner may do what he did in the primary and just spend so much money that it is impossible to lose.

Rauner campaign link:

Gubernatorial races predicted thus far: 4 D (1 Safe, 1 Leans, 2 Tossup) , 8 R (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 5 Leans)
Overall totals predicted thus far: 11 D, 15 R (net Republican gain of 2)


At 9:23 AM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Corey, In predicting Rauner will WIN in an upset by less than 1 percentage point.

At 3:08 PM, Anonymous Zreebs said...

I was undecided at this time in 2010, but this time I clearly prefer Quinn over Rauner.

Rauner has only himself to blame if Quinn is successful with what you call "class warfare" issues. If there is a war over class warfare, GOP has won as income that previously would have gone to the bottom 90% is now going to the CEO or stockholders. Whether outsourcing to foreign countries - which Rauner has done - is desirable for the economy is worthy of debate,


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