Huge fund advantage gives edge to Rauner


by RUSS STEWART

Illinois may be a two-party state, albeit very blue and Democratic, but it has a 14-faction system, consisting of squabbling, mutually hostile, self-interested groupings within each major party. Each faction can deliver votes and funding, and the candidate who best masters the "art of overlap" — having a solid base in one or more faction and appealing to rival factions — wins.

The nine Democratic factions include blacks, Hispanics, gays, ideological liberals (who call themselves "progressive"), unions, Downstate county chairmen, the Chicago party machine (run by Mayor Rahm Emanuel), the Springfield legislative machine (run by Mike Madigan and John Cullerton), and the oddball/outsiders/reformers (personified by Governor Pat Quinn), who always have a cause but rarely a leader.

The five Republican factions are rural Downstaters, the Springfield establishment/business/medical industry, social-issue conservatives (pro-gun rights, anti-abortion), Collar County (primarily DuPage County) fiscal conservatives, and the oddball/outsiders. The term "Republican reformer" is an oxymoron.

This factionalism is evident in the ever-more-rancorous gubernatorial primary, where a "pawn shop mentality" has emerged.

There is a huge controversy in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, just east of Oak Park, about allowing pawn shops into the area. Opponents argue that such establishments foster crime, giving criminals a receptacle for fencing stolen goods.

However, have you ever been in a pawn shop in a deteriorating minority area? Most of the items available are used, abused, ratty, tarnished, neglected, unwanted, tacky, unappreciated and over-valued. Those adjectives describe the governor’s contest and candidates, especially the March 18 Republican primary, where the five bickering factions of the party are slugging it out, trying to out-overlap each other. The candidates are:

*Bill Brady’s appeal is to Downstaters and social conservatives, who comprise 20 to 30 percent of the Republican base. Brady, a 12-year state senator from Bloomington, lost the 2010 contest to Quinn by 31,834 votes after a mediocre campaign against a mediocre incumbent. Brady also is the poster boy of the shadowy "recyclable" faction, which embraces past losers and believes in second and third chances. Brady lost the 2006 primary for governor, getting 135,370 votes (18.4 percent of the total cast), but he won the 2010 primary, getting 155,527 votes (20.3 percent of the total). In the seven-candidate 2010 contest, Brady eked out a 193-vote win, getting virtually all his backing south of Interstate 80 and west of the Fox River Valley. As of Jan. 1, Brady had $200,697 in campaign funds on hand.

*Kirk Dillard, a 22-year state senator from Hinsdale in DuPage County, is part of the less strident, fiscally conservative Collar County faction, and he is trying to replicate the success of Republican U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, who won in 2010 by 59,220 votes by appealing to moderate suburbanites, not Tea Party adherents, who are not sufficiently numerous to be a faction. Dillard finished second to Brady in the 2010 primary, getting 155,324 votes (20.25 percent of the total). He would have won had not former state attorney general and 2002 loser for governor Jim Ryan split Dillard’s DuPage/Collar County base, capturing 130,785 votes (17.0 percent of the total cast). Dillard had $76,140 on hand, and he has gotten some union support.

*State Treasurer Dan Rutherford is the Springfield establishment/business candidate. A state senator from Pontiac, he was elected statewide in 2010 by 161,049 votes, emulating the Kirk game plan by eschewing social issues, focusing on the need for checks and balances and raising big bucks. Of course, running against Robin Kelly, an under-funded, obscure Chicago-area state representative, helped. Being a winner, with a Downstate base overlap, put Rutherford on the track for governor from the get-go, but his tenure as treasurer was tepid and timid, and while Illinois’ finances imploded, he was missing in action. He failed to clear the 2014 field.

Now, amid allegations of employee harassment, Rutherford’s campaign has imploded. He had $1,369,468 on hand, but he is dead in the water and he will finish last.

In 2006 state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka was the establishment/business choice, and she won the primary with 280,701 votes (38.2 percent of the total), edging self-funding oddball/outsider millionaire Jim Oberweis by 47,125 votes. In 2010 the faction’s choice, wealthy businessman Andy McKenna, got 148,054 votes (19.3 percent of the total), finishing third. With Rutherford nose-diving, factional paralysis abounds.

*Bruce Rauner is the oddball/outsider faction’s darling in a year in which disgusted voters are enthralled with the idea of an oddball governor. Can he make Springfield any worse? The venture capitalist gazillionaire has already pumped $5 million of his own money into the race, and he has raised another $8 million. His repetitious theme, spread all over television, is that he will "shake up Springfield," whatever that means.

To some, it means removing an ineffectual governor. To others, it means eagerly foisting gridlock on state government, checkmating Madigan and engendering the chaos which characterized Dan Walker’s brief reign from 1973 to 1976. To public sector unions, it means no more sweet deals for state employees. To the news media, it means $50 million in TV ads and an orgy of negativity which will make the 2006 Blagojevich-Topinka race seem the epitome of civility. To business, Rauner means a veto of new taxes and maybe even a rollback of Quinn’s 2011 corporate tax hike, which expires in 2015. To Madigan, it means smoothing his daughter Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s path to the governorship in 2018. After all, Lisa Madigan is better positioned to win with an inept Republican rather than an inept Democrat as governor. If Quinn wins, he certainly will run yet again. To Emanuel, it means having his vacation buddy Rauner, not the mercurial Quinn, as governor.

Most of all, to Republican voters of every faction, it means one very elusive six-letter word: winner. It means that Rauner has the resources to maintain his television presence throughout the spring and summer. It means that he can hammer on his theme. It means that when the unions attack, he can and will respond. Republicans painfully remember 2006, when Topinka "went dark" during the April-August period, allowing incumbent Rod Blagojevich to spend upwards of $10 million to saturate TV with "What was she thinking?" ads. They remember 2010, when after his upset victory, Brady fumbled and dithered for five months, never established a theme, never established a presence north of Interstate 80, and never raised money. It wasn’t until the Republican Governor’s Association intervened in August with money and campaign manpower that Brady had a credible campaign.

Had Dillard won the primary, there is no doubt that he would be governor today.

A coalition of unions, including the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union, are doing their utmost to soften up Rauner for the run-up at Quinn. They are spending upwards of $2 million for television ads and mailers. Every Republican in Illinois supposedly got a mailer from the Republican Fund for Progress and Jobs (is that possible?) lambasting the "Shakedown Express" and highlighting Rauner’s assistance to Emanuel after the left the Clinton White House, which, the Chicago Tribune said, earned him "$18 million in under three years." It also accused Rauner of: (1) "donating over $870,000 to Democrats," including Rich Daley, the Democratic National Committee and the Pennsylvania governor. (2) Having a "radically pro-abortion wife" and of being pro-abortion. (3) Having business ties to convicted state government insider Stuart Levine. (4) Earning $53 million in 2012 and wanting to cut the state minimum wage by $1 to $7.25 per hour. (5) Having ownership in a corporation which "made billions of dollars" while nursing home patients were "neglected and died."

The attacks are effective in the short term, but perhaps not in the long term. The unions understand Republican voters’ "circle the wagons" mentality. They conclude that the more intensely a Republican is attacked, the more righteous he must be. Unions want Rauner to win the primary because he is the most smearable, and hence beatable, Quinn foe.

Polls bear this out. A Feb. 26 poll by We Ask America had Rauner ahead at 36 percent, with Dillard at 17 percent, Brady at 13 percent and Rutherford at a dismal 7 percent. The "undecided" was at 27 percent. A Feb. 5 WGN-Chicago Tribune poll put the candidates at 40, 11, 20 and 13 percent, respectively.

Clearly, there is Republican resistance to Rauner, who is skillfully overlapping into the factional bases, drawing votes Downstate and in the suburbs and avoiding any social-issue comments, but voter support of the three-man anti-Rauner field equals Rauner’s support. That means that Dillard or Brady must corral more than two-thirds of the undecided vote. That will not happen.

Rauner’s strategists, most of whom are not Illinoisans and have RGA ties, are counting on a "shoot their wad" scenario. Let all the negativity surface early in the year, and by summer it will be old news. Then Rauner can craft the election as a referendum on the incompetent Quinn. The governor can only triumph if he continues to shred Rauner’s character and credibility with more sordid revelations, making Rauner the most unelectable contender.

My prediction: Republican turnout was 735,810 in 2006 and 767,485 in 2010. Rutherford was once in the overlap position, and he could have overtaken Rauner, but the Republicans will pick Rauner, with close to 45 percent of the vote in the primary. They are tired of wimpy, cashless losers.

Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.


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