Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Illinois Governor- Race of the Day

83 Days Until Election Day

Illinois Governor

Status: Republican Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Likely Democrat

I have not been relishing this write-up. That is due to it being a disappointing situation for me who has always been a proud citizen of the Land of Lincoln and because there is no way I will be able to remember every detail that I think it pertinent.

In many ways, Illinois has become the poster-child for government dysfunction and resident dissatisfaction. People seem to be leaving the state in high numbers and many more say they would go too, if they could. We continue to deal with the ramifications of corrupt politicians in both parties, as well as high taxes, a poor business climate, and untenable pension system. Even worse, is that in many African-American neighborhoods in Chicago, the streets as a virtual killing field as gang members kill each other and all too often innocent bystanders. Due to sociological factors and distrust of local police, almost nobody gets arrested for these crimes and the cycle continues.

Four years ago, there was hope that the election of Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, after 12 tumultuous years under Democrats would be what was needed to "shake things up" but while Rauner has clearly tried to set the state on a new path, he has found that entrenched interests stand in the way of real change. Namely, that being State House Speaker Michael Madigan, He has held his job in all but two years since 1983 and no American has ever presided over a legislative body any longer throughout history. Also, the Chairman of the state's Democrat party, Madigan wields tremendous power and has caused Rauner to lament that he is "not in charge" of the state he was elected to govern. Needless to say, that was not a good sound bite for a first time office-holder whose words often get him in trouble, and it is being used against him.

The 2014 nomination and election of Bruce Rauner, a multi-millionaire private equity businessman, who had very little in the way of ties to the Republican Party, in many ways was an early reference for how Donald Trump came to power two years later. One main difference though is that Rauner spent lavishly from his personal fortune to oust Democrat incumbent Pat Quinn, calling him a "failure." Many, myself included perhaps, were skeptical that a Republican could actually win statewide in Illinois these days, but Rauner pulled off the feat, and a surprising showing in the Chicago area, including among African-Americans was a big reason why. By virtue of the office he was elected to and the financial involvement he had and had invested in Republican candidates and organizations throughout the state, Rauner found himself firmly in control of the Republican Party.

His fights with Madigan, the General Assembly, and government labor unions started right away. For more than two years, Illinois was unable to produce a budget, social services were held in limbo, and some dealt with steep cuts. Stubbornly, Rauner refused to give in on his agenda, which included term limits for elected officials (such as Madigan) and he felt the public was on his side. Madigan simply refused to give an inch though, and prevailed over his party members to hold the line and wait the impasse out. The numbers for both Rauner and Madigan tumbled, but even as the Speaker clearly became the most unpopular political figure in the state, all that mattered was the hold he had on his own Chicago-based district and on the State House. The State Senate was virtually a junior partner.  With the pressure strong enough on some Republicans in competitive districts, Madigan ultimately won the battle of wills and a budget was passed over Rauner's veto.

This set off a curious change of events for the Rauner Administration from which he has yet to recover. Upset at losing (basically for the first time in his life), Rauner fired a bunch of key staffers, (and some others resigned) including his loyal Chief of Staff. He then hired for his Gubernatorial staff a bunch of officials from a conservative think tank. Discovered emails show that even his wife Diane, who has always been described as a Democrat, was very much involved in these decisions. The new sudden rightward shift by Rauner, whom had campaigned in 2014 as someone "without a social agenda" proved controversial and confusing. The maneuvers and past writings of some of the new staffers came to light and in a matter of a couple months, they were gone too. The Governor then proceeded to move sharply to the left, signing legislation on issues like abortion and illegal immigration that could have easily come from a Democrat Governor. The one constant has been Rauner's continued fights with organized labor. Many in state government jobs had clashed with Quinn when he was Governor and refused to vote for him, only to see Rauner win office and threaten them further. The GOP Governor did get to brag on one occasion recently, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Illinois white collar government worker who fought against being forced to pay union fees. Rauner championed this court case and his side was victorious on the Janus decision.

After his move to the left though, and the realization that he faced a tough path to reelection, many in the state's Republican Party, which he had such firm control of, started to turn on him. There had always been a level of mistrust about Rauner and doubts about his authenticity. The wealthy businessman gives speeches in which he deliberately drops the letter "g" from the end of words in order to sound folksy and he has a penchant for wearing outfits, such as a bedazzled leather biker vest that looks like he is pandering. In all fairness, Rauner does legitimately seem to be a Harley-Davidson rider. Some of his anecdotes and stories about his life and background have failed the truth test and critics point to him as having someone with a very vindictive streak.

For a long time, nobody expected him to face a challenge for re-nomination, and when one came, nobody really expected for it to wind up as serious as it did. Just as quickly as he gained the party under his wing, he saw it almost slip away from him completely. That might be a warning to Donald Trump, although the President has acolytes in the way that Bruce Rauner never has.

Speaking of Trump, it is worth nothing that in the strongly Democrat state of Illinois, Rauner has almost never mentioned his name as Governor and while he has refused to answer the question directly, is said to have not voted for Trump in 2016 and to be quite opposed to many policies as well as his personality. In spite of that, Rauner appears genuinely fond of Vice President Mike Pence, whom he served for two years as neighboring Governors. Rauner often pointed to the Republican Governors surrounding Illinois as evidence of how much better the state could be doing if not for the influence of Madigan and Indiana was certainly part of that. At a recent event for Pence in Illinois, Rauner appeared and spoke very positively about how he works with the Vice President. That was a curious political move itself. Very shortly after, when Donald Trump came to Downstate Illinois, his first visit to the state as President, Rauner did not attend. Rauner never mentions Trump and Trump never mentions Rauner either. Some were wondering if the President would either attack Rauner from the stage or endorse him, and which might be worse. Neither happened.

The Governor's primary opponent said she voted for Donald Trump and made a point in having a very late primary campaign press conference at the Chicago version of Trump Tower, but otherwise did not focus on him either. Based on the results, had State Representative Jeanne Ives gone after Rauner on the matter of Trump, she might have won the nomination. There may have even been a Presidential endorsement. One can surmise that as more of a Ted Cruz style social conservative, she was not that keen on Trump either.

Ives, a West Point grad, was a staunchly conservative vote in Springfield and had no qualms about using sharp political elbows. She was disappointed enough with Rauner's move to the left, that she challenged him in the March Republican primary. Nobody expected she would get very far of course, but she received significant financial backing from a former Rauner ally and dissatisfaction with the incumbent on the right was such that she only lost by a 51-49 margin. Very few Gubernatorial incumbents in history have ever survived a primary call anywhere near that close. In 2014, many in the Tea Party were attracted to Rauner's outsider status and the way he attacked career politicians in both parties, but by 2018 a ton of them were off the train completely.

Despite it all, Ives was severely outspent. The two candidates never had a formal debate, but she clearly got under Rauner's skin at a Chicago Tribune endorsement session joint appearance. Just about every newspaper in the state endorsed Rauner over Ives, and a big reason was a particularly inflaming television ad that the Ives campaign ran to attack Rauner on social issues. It featured actors portraying such things as an illegal immigrant terrorist (though the actor was white) and a transgender woman thanking Rauner for letting her use the ladies room. That was a distortion of the issue, but there's not really time to get into all that here.

Ives was slammed by many sides for this ad, including from the Rauner camp with some saying that it proved how un-electable she was and the fear of the damage she might do to other Republicans. I cast an unenthusiastic Republican primary vote for Bruce Rauner simply to ensure that Ives not be nominated. At the same time, Rauner ran a lot of ads accusing Ives of being insufficiently devoted to fighting Speaker Madigan and implying that she was somehow a puppet of his. Ives was especially offended by the characterization that she was "Madigan's Favorite Republican." The two were clearly not allied, but it is fair to assume that Madigan was quite fond of the damage she was doing to Rauner and would have loved to see her nominated. The hardball ads probably took their toll and Rauner narrowly survived and called for party unity. Ives, who did not place a concession call, said she would vote for the Governor in November but continued to call him a liar and said she would not campaign for him or even speak to him.

Before Illinois primaries, the candidates pick running-mates for Lt. Governor and they compete as a ticket.While Ives selected a Downstate former State Representative, it is more noteworthy that she and Rauner's running-mate, Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti, once served together on the same suburban City Council in DuPage County. In 2014, Rauner selected Sanguinetti in order to bring Latin American diversity to the ticket and because she had some ties to the Tea Party. In her current job (which in fairness does not hold much power), she has been virtually invisible, at least in the Chicago media market, and Rauner has at times leaned heavily on other top female staffers. In the closing days of the primary campaign, Rauner seemed to remember her again and implored people to "vote for me and Evelyn."

Then, there are the Democrats. Ultimately, six contenders and their running-mates faced off in March. The field was larger earlier on but some candidates back in the pack dropped out or switched to other races. Before it all began though, it is important to know that Lisa Madigan, the state's four term Attorney General, who had been talked about for years as a future Governor and the strongest possible candidate for her party, did not run once again. She also happens to be the daughter of Michael Madigan and four years earlier was unable to work out a deal with him in which he would stop down from his job to make it more acceptable for her to run for Governor. This cycle, she announced he was not even running for reelection and was retiring, at least for now, from elected office.

Many Democrats also feared that Pat Quinn, whom before ascending to the Governorship had been seen as a political gadfly and perennial losing candidate, would seek to gain his job back and with name recognition could prevail in a crowded primary field, only to lose to Rauner again and take other Democrats down with him. Instead, Quinn ran in a crowded field for Attorney General and despite his name recognition advantage, finished second among Democrats.

Among the six Democrats on the primary ballot, three combined for about 96 percent of the vote. Chicago activist Tio Hardiman, an African-American who won several nearly all-white downstate counties in his 2014 primary challenge to Quinn (simply because he was not Quinn) did not top two percent of the vote this time as the lone African-American candidate for Governor, and the one candidate from Downstate Illinois did even worse.

The top three contained some big names and some big wallets and at times, the interchanges between them was quite brutal. The front-runner was billionaire J.B. Pritzker, a businessman and philanthropist who is heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune. He comes from a politically connected family and a very rich one. In a 1998 Congressional bid, he finished third in a three way primary though. After that, and despite his sister eventually serving as Barack Obama's Secretary of Commerce, Pritzker remained loyal to Hillary Clinton and backed her, even against home state Senator Obama in 2008. He gave an interview in 2012, when it was reasonably clear that Obama would be facing Mitt Romney in a general election, where he made comments indicating that he would have to make up his mind as to whom to vote for and that like many he found the choices imperfect. Some Democrats tried to use this as indication that he was not fully committed to the party.

Pritizker in this campaign clearly made it known though that he would open his wallet if nominated and spend heavily on his campaign and well as subsidizing other Democrats. As someone even richer than Rauner, this was quite an appeal, and Madigan seemed to get on board with him. Of course, with Madigan being even unpopular among Democrat primary voters, Pritzker was loath to admit this, as Rauner and the other Democrats all tried to tar him with the association. Nonetheless, Pritzker consistently chose his words very carefully and was very more careful about attacking Madigan than the other two Democrats were.

During the course of a primary campaign, some old FBI wiretaps came to light in which Pritzker was speaking to then Governor Rod Blagojevich, who of course later went to prison, in part because of the things he was recorded saying. Pritzker schmoozed Blago on the tapes and lobbied for a potential statewide Constitutional Officer appointment, although there was no clear statement of a quid pro quo found. In discussing with Blagojevich potential replacements for Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate (the seat the then Governor attempted to sell) Pritzker was caught saying some impolite and dismissive things about African-American political figures. This created a firestorm, at least for a while, with one of the black politicians mentioned promising to enact retribution on Pritzker. Another though, longtime Secretary of State Jesse White, whom Pritzker had described as the "least offensive" African-American choice, had endorsed the candidate and stood by him. He also maintained the support of both of Illinois's U.S. Senators and many others in the Democrat establishment.

This was despite the fact that he was literally running against a Kennedy, which at one point in Chicago Democrat politics was a name akin to royalty. Chris Kennedy, who was not quite five years old when his father Robert was assassinated in 1968, had for years ran his family's interest in the Chicago management firm called Merchandise Mart. For several cycles, he was talked about as a potential candidate for one office or another, but he never ran, until this cycle. Once he got in, he seemed to struggle as a rookie candidate, gave rambling speeches, and was chronically late to events. (Later on, one of his brothers was nearly booed off stage in one Illinois county for going off on a rant about party support for Pritzker.) Kennedy,would also reveal that he was dealing with a medical condition that sometimes caused his hands to shake noticeably.

He seemed to get his footing a bit more the longer the race went on in discussing issues, but raised eyebrows by positioning himself as basically the least liberal candidate in the race. He expressed reservations about the legalization of marijuana for instance, to the dismay of many in the party, and cited his family's history of drug addiction as a reason. He also went out of his way to be critical, at times in quite personal tones, about Speaker Madigan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and others. Some claimed that he would have been better off running in a primary for Cook County Assessor as corruption and influence peddling in that office was a big focus of his campaign. One issue where Kennedy remained staunchly liberal was that of guns. The son of a gun violence victim, he selected as his Lt. Governor pick, an African-American activist who had lost his son to gun violence.

The third main candidate in the race was State Senator Daniel Biss. He grew up in a fairly affluent family, but positioned himself as the "middle class" candidate in the race against a Pritzker and a Kennedy (and a Rauner.) The wonkish math professor (whom like Pritzker, and Mrs. Rauner is Jewish), received substantial grassroots support from Chicago area progressives. His campaign played on these constituencies by printing signs that said "Canna-Biss" and "Biss, Please." Initially, Biss selected as his running-mate a young, gay Latino Chicago Alderman, but that partnership lasted less than a week because the Gubernatorial candidate was apparently unaware that his running-mate an open member of Democratic Socialists of  America, supported the anti-Israel BDS movement. Next, Biss would turn to an African-American female State Representative from Rockford.

For his running-mate, Pritzker had chosen Juliana Stratton, an African-American from Chicago who was a relatively new member to Michael Madigan's State House. In 2016, she knocked off a black incumbent who ran afoul of Madigan and the party by working with Rauner. Even Barack Obama got involved in that primary. Stratton gave a dynamic speech on primary night, which went even better than expected for the front-running Pritzker campaign.

Despite some who were willing to write him off over the "tapes" controversy, the money he spent on the primary proved to be well-spent as he won 45 percent of the vote. In the end, it was not even close. Biss finished with 27 percent and Kennedy received 24 percent. Many expected Kennedy would finish a close second, because of lingering affection for his family, especially among African-Americas, but it was a disappointing showing for the first-time candidate and an indication that it is unlikely that any member of the generation of the children of Jack, Bobby, and Teddy, will ever win statewide office on their own. (The Bush Family is far more successful through the generations in that regard.) Months before the primary, I thought that Biss would ultimately finish ahead of Kennedy, and that proved to be the case. I thought Kennedy would do better though towards the end because he had many of the state's newspaper endorsements, and I did not think Pritzker would win so easily.

There is no way that I could write about this race and not talk about the elephant in the room... or the donkey... or whatever it is that can be used to express the fact that Pritzker is an extremely rotund man. In some ways, he resembles a fatter Babe Ruth, and is not exactly made for the television age, but it did not matter in the primary. Questions about his health may be present though, just as there were in New Jersey surrounding former Republican Governor Chris Christie. I wonder if Pritzker, considering his political ambitions, has at any point contemplated a gastric bypass procedure. This may be the most drastic contrast in waistlines between two male candidates ever. The tall and lanky Rauner seems to be losing weight in office and some have remarked that he at times appears overly gaunt.

Since the primary, negative ads have been airing, but in some ways the race has remained fairly quiet. Developments in what will be a crowded Chicago Mayoral election early next year have generated more political headlines of late. Some Democrats are fretting that Pritzker is an uninspiring candidate who is letting precious time slip by in not being more visible or offering more in the way of concrete policy proposals. In that regard, he has generated some comparisons to his old friend Hillary Clinton. The anticipation is that both campaigns will scorch the earth down the homestretch and even if they can never generate positive feelings towards them will be effectively able to paint their opponent as unacceptable.

The theme of corruption and cronyism by Republicans against Pritzker and Madigan will be constant. The Governor's rhetoric has grown increasingly more urgent in recent weeks. He recently said that he hopes that Madigan is doing something illegal and gets prosecuted. He also continues to attack (ironically) Pritzker for his wealth and claims that he inherited nothing while all of Pritzker's  money is inherited. The most noticeable line of attack though has involved toilets. Some time back, Pritzker ordered all the toilets to be removed from a mansion he bought, so that the property can be declared uninhabitable and he was able to get a big property tax break. Rauner staffers sometimes trail Pritzker with toilets. It is a very potent negative against the challenger, but it may not even matter to some amid all the political noise.

There is reason to believe that Pritzker and Democrats are concerned about the Madigan connection issue, as the Speaker's office has now been drawn into an issue involving years of sexual harassment by Madigan's top aide, and allegations of misconduct by others in the organization. Pritzker is running an ad in which he mockingly attacks Madigan as being a puppy hater, trying to defuse these attacks as overly political. Nonetheless, the Rauner campaign will continue stressing that single party rule of the state under the two men will lead to a massive tax increase. For their part, Democrats have focused on Rauner's "failures" including deaths that occurred in a Downstate Veteran's Home, under his watch. The Pritzker campaign received a good deal of criticism, including by some allies, for a recent ad, in which a false claim was asserted that Rauner stands to benefit financially from the Trump Administration family separation policy. That is not the case, and Rauner spoke out forcefully against the practice of seperating children from their parents at the border.

Considering the Democrat make-up of Illinois and the undisputed fact that Rauner is easily among the least popular Governors in America, he clearly faces a steep climb. That got even worse since the primary by the entrance into the race of Republican State Senator Sam McCann, who is running under the banner of the newly created Conservative Party. A Downstate politician, McCann is running as a socially conservative, pro-Trump, pro-organized labor alternative. It is also true that Democrats and labor unions helped take part in getting the required signatures to place McCann on the ballot. Rauner and his Republican allies point to him as being a Democrat plant. A large labor union recently issues a joint endorsement of Pritzker and McCann. A Libertarian is also running in the person of Navy veteran Kash Jackson (not his real name) who is engulfed in some sort of child support collection legal proceedings which apparently have him at risk of being put behind bars at any time. (A family friend from decades ago, former professional wrestler Jon Stewart failed in his Libertarian Gubernatorial bid at the convention.)

It remains to be seen just how many votes McCann or other alternatives on the ballot may get, but some think that it will be substantial, and perhaps as high as 15 percent. Some particularly virulent anti-Rauner voices even predict the Governor might finish in third place. I doubt that happens, but however many votes McCann gets will hurt the Republican nominee, even as he will also take some votes that might have otherwise gone in protest to Pritzker. Without the support of social conservatives, who went for Ives in the primary, it is hard to see any path Rauner has to victory this year.

Nonetheless, it is still not even Labor Day, and Pritzker has more vulnerabilities than most candidates. He and his party are hoping that Donald Trump is bluffing about springing Blago from prison, because the last thing Democrats want is the former Governor going on a media tour and talking about his past relationship with the current nominee.

In both 2006 and 2010, unpopular Democrat Governors were able to win against challengers they were able to successfully paint as even worse choices. That is what Rauner is hoping for this year, but that is harder to do in Illinois when you are a Republican, instead of the reverse. In theory, Pritzker can be painted as unacceptable ethically, but the math just might not be there this year for Republicans, especially with the "conservative" spoiler. In the end, Rauner might only be able to get about 30 percent of the vote. I will be among those who will be voting enthusiastically for him, in order to prevent Pritzker and Madigan from doing more damage to this great state. That vote will likely be for naught though. Perhaps four years from now, if its not too late, a stronger candidate than Bruce Rauner will emerge, who will have the statewide appeal, to make the case for fundamental change.

Until then, Pritzker might find what every recent Governor of both parties have found in dealing with Madigan. That the Speaker considers himself more powerful than any Governor and often gets his way. If Madigan were to step down today, it would all but ensure that the Democrat was elected by an even wider margin, but he is not offering and Pritzker is not asking. After the election, perhaps Madigan might feel that he is now free to step aside, having finally vanquished Rauner.

Like most places, the Party of Lincoln in the Land of Lincoln has been co-opted by the Cult of Trump and that is not something I will ever accept and all the more reason why this election cycle is not like others have been for me. I do not think Bruce Rauner is anywhere near as bad as Donald Trump, but the two men have some unfortunate similarities. Once again, the rise and anticipated fall of Rauner should be a cautionary tale to Republicans in all states and nationwide about what could happen when you let an outsider take over a party.

In closing, there is at least one thing that Bruce Rauner can brag about. Two Chicago sports teams have reached the pinnacle of success under his term, allowing him the opportunity to get booed at championship rallies (although not nearly as bad as Pat Quinn once was) when the Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup of the decade in 2015 and when the Chicago Cubs reached the baseball promised land and won the World Series in 2016. Thankfully, the man will still be Governor at the end of this October.

Gubernatorial Races predicted thus far:

6 D,  (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Leans, 2 Tossup) 
6 R (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 2 Leans, 1 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

13 D (7 holdovers, 2 Safe, 1 Likely 1 Leans, 2 Tossup)
13 R (7 holdovers, 2 Safe, 1 Likely, 2 Leans, 1 Tossup)


At 1:34 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Corey: Looks like Rauner will lose by double digits somewhere between 12 to 15 percentage points.


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