Rauner’s campaign is worst money can buy
by RUSS STEWART
After Pat Quinn wins on Nov. 4, stories will proliferate in the media that Bruce Rauner ran the worst gubernatorial campaign that money could buy. Well, you read it here first: Rauner is running the worst campaign that money can buy, and he is on track to lose to the man who is arguably America’s worst governor.
How can a guy spend $75 million from mid-2013 through election day, have a saturation television presence and an opponent whose "unfavorables" are double his "favorables" and still lose? Here’s how:
After the March Republican primary, on which Rauner spent $14 million, including $5 million from his own pocket, Rauner called together his campaign team and his high-priced consultants and threw a hissy fit. According to sources close to his campaign, Rauner raged and ranted, demanding to know why he had such a meager rate of return.
Rauner got just over 325,000 votes (40.1 percent of the total cast), finishing about 28,000 votes ahead Kirk Dillard, who had 37.3 percent of the vote. He outspent his rivals — Dillard, Bill Brady and Dan Rutherford — by a combined 4-1, but when the numbers were crunched, it cost Rauner $43 for every vote he received, and a stunning 60 percent of the 815,000 Republican primary voters did not vote for him, despite pre-primary polls giving him a wide lead.
Rauner demanded to know what happened. His operatives, most of them out-of-staters associated with the Republican Governors Association, had only superficial knowledge of Illinois politics. They obsessed on the "Brady Model," which focused on Downstater Brady’s failed 2010 bid against Quinn, which came up short by 31,834 votes. Brady won the Republican primary against a low-spending field of seven candidates, topping Dillard by 193 votes and getting just 20.3 percent of the vote. Thereafter, Brady disappeared, failing to campaign or establish any media presence in Cook County and the Collar Counties and failing to raise a credible amount of campaign cash. An infusion of about $2 million from the association in mid-October buoyed his campaign, but it was too little, too late.
Spend early, spend often, spend a lot. That was the advice of Rauner’s advisors, and he did. "Shake up Springfield" was his theme. He was presentable. He had no attackable legislative voting record. His liberal, Democratic wife attested that he was a swell guy. He was pro-choice, and he eschewed social issues. He had deep pockets and lots of corporate connections, and he was a vacation buddy of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He bashed the public sector unions — whom Republicans love to hate — and called for pension "reforms" (meaning cutbacks). He also could self-fund. The perfect candidate, right? Not right.
The tacit message was: Nominate a winner, meaning he’s got money. In a January We Ask America poll, Rauner was leading Quinn 47-39 percent. "Shake up Springfield" was working. Despite his poor primary showing, Rauner had rebounded nicely, leading Quinn 51-38 percent in an Aug. 6 Chicago Sun-Times/We Ask America poll. Rauner had jettisoned his union bashing. Revelations that Quinn granted anti-violence program funding to political insiders and hired a lot of politically sponsored Democrats for exempt state jobs were tarnishing his squeaky clean image.
Yet Rauner’s poll numbers imploded, rather than exploded. A Sept. 20 CBS News/New York Times poll had him losing 43-46, a Sept. 25 Rasmussen poll had him losing 42-44, and an Oct. 8 Chicago Sun-Times/We Ask America poll had him down 41-44. He lost 10 points in two months when the embattled Quinn was getting reams of negative publicity. How is that possible? There are four reasons.
First, Rauner is essentially running his own campaign, dictating strategy and advertising. His team does what he tells them; there are no longer any governors association types telling him what to do. There is no continuity of message. Every week, two new televisions spots — one negative, one positive — are produced and aired. Rauner ties Quinn to Rod Blagojevich, blasts the "100 years of corruption," which is the cumulative years in office of Quinn, Blagojevich, Mike Madigan and John Cullerton, uses Dan Hynes’ 2010 attack on the prison inmate early release program, and gets no traction. Quinn pounds Rauner as a shifty, unethical, selfish, profit-obsessed multi-millionaire businessman, and gets traction. Quinn is now resurrecting Rauner’s business ties to nursing homes that had civil judgments for patient neglect or abuse.
Second, despite all his big bucks, Rauner never defined himself. What will he do as governor, and do differently from Quinn? How does he solve the state’s monumental fiscal and pension shortfalls? What does he "shake up" in Springfield, and how will he do it? The Democrats will have a super majority in the Illinois Senate and close to a super majority in the Illinois House, so they can override his vetoes. Is he going to work with them and make permanent the 2011 "temporary" income tax hike or be "Governor No"? Does he have an agenda, or is this campaign just an ego trip for a guy who makes $50 million-plus annually?
Third, Rauner is just not connecting. Despite his blanketing television ad presence, he is not wearing well. He engenders no enthusiasm, no throw-the-bums-out zeal. Campaign volunteers? He is paying people $10 per hour to work precincts, and he is pumping money into Republican legislative campaigns and ward and township organizations. He has black community organizers on the payroll. Is this just a waste of money?
Fourth, Rauner has not penetrated the voters’ "comfort zone" with Quinn, who is sort of like an Egg McMuffin: bland, filling and forgettable. He succeeded a disgraced, impeached and jailed governor, and the previous governor also was jailed. By comparison, Quinn ranks right up there with Mother Theresa. Despite being reviled in Springfield as "Governor Jell-o," Quinn is a master panderer, pushing gay marriage, a minimum wage hike, gender pay equity, no pension cuts, driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, etc., to appeal to gays, blacks, women, union members and Hispanics. He even has mendacious ads declaring him to be the "Jobs Governor," even though state unemployment is 6.8 percent (the highest in the Midwest), business taxes and fees have soared, and businesses are flocking to low-tax Indiana and Wisconsin. Quinn is a master liar.
The good news for Illinoisans is that Quinn has promised that if he is re-elected in November, he won’t run for re-election in 2018. The bad news is that Quinn, who has refused to take a public position on making the income tax hike permanent, will, if re-elected, jack up every fee and tax. Budget reductions are not part of his DNA, and since he won’t be on the ballot in 2018, he can tax and spend with reckless abandon.
Illinois’ bonded indebtedness is $44.7 billion, unfunded pensions are close to $100 billion, and there is $7 billion in unpaid Medicaid bills. In a $55 billion annual state budget, $13 billion is spent for interest on the debt — almost a quarter of the revenue. The state is spending $3 for every $2 in revenue it receives. The total state debt is close to $200 billion. That is unsustainable, yet neither Quinn nor Rauner articulate any solution.
The Democrats have controlled the governorship and the state legislature since 2002. They can no longer blame George Bush. Blame them. However, there is no voter fatigue with Quinn or the status quo. The thinking is, let’s just muddle along and kick the proverbial can down the road.
That’s Rauner’s real opponent – "Governor Lassitude." Among voters there is no sense of urgency, outrage or retribution, and there is no fear among politicians. They know that many voters are dumb, easily misled and misfed lies. Quinn’s strategists understand that the best way to secure another term is not to make the election a referendum on "Governor Jell-o," but to smear and mischaracterize Rauner and make him unelectable. They are succeeding, helped inestimably by Rauner’s ineptitude. The only person Rauner can sue for political malpractice is himself.
The latest poll, by SIU/Simon Poll on Oct. 17, showed Rauner up 42-41, with 17 percent of respondents undecided. For an incumbent, 41 percent is horrific. Historically, if undecideds are not for the incumbent now, they won’t be on election day, but that’s exactly what did not happen in 2010. With Scott Lee Cohen running for governor as an independent and with a Libertarian candidate on the ballot, they jointly amassed 236,461 votes (6.3 percent of the total). Those were non-Quinn, non-Brady, non-establishment votes. If just 15 percent of those votes had gone to Brady, he would have won. In addition, the undecideds broke overwhelmingly for Quinn. Quinn got 46.8 percent of the vote, to 45.9 percent for Brady.
There is a Libertarian candidate in this election, who will get 2 to 4 percent of the vote. Turnout was 3,792,770 in 2010, and it will be about the same in November. If Quinn replicates his 2010 vote of 1,745,219, he’ll lose; he’s got to add 125,000 votes. For Rauner to win, he has to add about 200,000 votes to Brady’s 2010 vote of 1,713,385.
Here’s the lead-in to my post-election column: America’s worst candidate loses to America’s worst governor. Quinn will win by 50,000 to 60,000 votes, and Rauner, unlike Brady, will have no one to blame but himself.
Some advice to Illinoisans: If you can afford to move out of state, think hard about doing it. The worst is coming.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.