Relics, retreads, rookies, top 2018 governor field
by RUSS STEWART
The re-election formula for embattled Governor Bruce Rauner reads something like this: DemR&R&R-LMad+$200,000,000+1,200,000MIA/RVs=W. That means that if the Democrats nominate a relic, a retread or a rookie, Lisa Madigan does not run, Rauner spends $200 million, and at least one million 2016 Clinton voters don’t vote in 2018, Rauner wins.
Conversely, the Democrats’ most feasible formula for defeating Rauner is JB+$450,000,000+blackLG+noMMad+anti-Trump wave. That means that billionaire J.B. Pritzker, the heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, runs for governor, spends $450 million of his own money, picks an African-American running mate, gets Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan to retire, runs negative Rauner ads on television about every 15 minutes for 12 months, and an unpopular Trump fuels a Democratic wave.
The 2018 governor’s race has already begun, even though the election is 22 months away. Springfield is still in gridlock, the state doesn’t have a budget, government hasn’t shut down, and all of Illinois’ top elected officials seem happy as a clam. Rauner can run for re-election on the premise that he didn’t capitulate and raise state income taxes, and Democrats can run against Rauner on the proposition that he wouldn’t capitulate and raise taxes in order to help the "most vulnerable."
Going into the next election cycle, here’s a reality check:
First, Attorney General Lisa Madigan cannot and will not run for governor as long as her father remains the House speaker, a post which by 2018 he will have held for 34 of the previous 36 years. The speaker’s reputation as a self-serving insider and a master of pay-to-play politics has made him and the obdurate Rauner Illinois’ two least liked politicians. If state government is dysfunctional, Madigan deserves at least half of the blame, as he can "fix" the fiscal problem by passing a tax hike, but he won’t do it for fear of losing his majority and his job.
Ever hear the term "anchor baby"? Lisa Madigan is the anchored baby. Illinois voters are lopsidedly Democratic, with Hillary Clinton defeating Donald Trump 2,977,498-2,118,179 and with the Republican getting just 38.5 percent of the vote, but the prospect of a Madigan as both governor and speaker, in total control of state government, gives even hard-core Democrats pause.
The Madigans probably could raise $50 million, and Lisa Madigan has $2,425,092 in her campaign account. "Two Madigans are too much" would be the Rauner rant. He’d be on television every 15 minutes decrying an imminent monarchy, and the election would be all about the Madigans, not a referendum on Rauner.
Second, Pritzker has a lot of baggage and is distinctly uncharismatic, and he lost his one bid for elective office, for the 9th U.S. House District in 1998, to Jan Schakowsky, getting just 20.5 percent of the vote. He is a retread, but he also is the Democrats’ 2018 firewall. If the Democrats want to beat billionaire Rauner, who better than billionaire Pritzker, whose net worth is $3.4 billion? Pritzker is Santa Claus for 2018, and every Democratic committeeman and county chairman will be beating a path to his door with their hands out.
Illinois already has a rich guy as governor who, if nothing else, has kept his promise not to raise taxes. Both Rauner and Pritzker, age 51, are venture capitalists. Pritzker inherited his wealth and then built upon it, while Rauner built from scratch. Pritzker postures as a philanthropist, but is primarily a fund raiser, raising cash for the Clintons, Barack Obama and other liberal Democrats. He donated $14 million to Hillary Clinton in 2015-16, and he hit up his wealthy buddies for more. His sister, Penny Pritzker, was named Obama’s U.S. commerce secretary as a reward for her money-raising skills, and she would have gotten a cushy ambassadorship had Clinton won.
The ugly specter of Rod Blagojevich could surface in 2018. An FBI audiotape has the ex-governor mulling about how much money Pritzker would give him for the Obama Senate seat, and saying that ". . . he asked me for it."
Third, a relic and a rookie are positioning themselves to run. The relic, former governor Pat Quinn, has nothing better to do with his life, has high name recognition and has a dismal record as a toady for Madigan, but he could win a primary without Pritzker and a prominent black contender. In the past, Quinn’s base was among black voters. In 2016 out-of-office Democrats in Wisconsin and Indiana attempted to reclaim their old jobs as senator and an Ohio ex-governor ran for senator, and all lost convincingly. Voters are sufficiently frustrated with their current office holders; they don’t want to bring back relics. "Don’t retread on me" was their message. Quinn is going nowhere.
The rookie is longtime Chicago businessman Christopher Kennedy, the son of Robert Kennedy of the "Kennedy Dynasty" who has been flirting with elective office for 20 years but always taking a pass. Kennedy, age 53, who formerly oversaw the Kennedy interests in the Merchandise Mart, has extensive contacts, and he reportedly has the support of Bill Daley, but there are doubts that he will self-fund and commit $100 million of the family fortune to a governor race.
Unlike Pritzker, Kennedy doesn’t have a track record as an insider and a fund raiser. He could plausibly run as an outsider, claim he could "make government work" in Springfield — which means raising taxes — and have separation from Madigan and the status quo.
Fourth, there will be a black contender, if not many. Nobody believes that Michelle Obama will run, but senior Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett, with extensive Chicago connections, senior Rahm Emanuel Administration advisor Andrea Zopp, who lost the 2016 primary for senator, state Senator Kwame Raoul, of the South Side Hyde Park area, and U.S. Representative Robin Kelly (D-2), who won Jesse Jackson Jr.’s seat, all are contemplating a run, and one definitely will run.
In any statewide Democratic primary, black voters constitute 25 to 30 percent of the turnout, usually on the higher end if there is a credible black candidate. Zopp got 24.1 percent of the vote against Tammy Duckworth. With Pritzker’s money tree dangling dollars, black politicians face temptation: go black or go green? Pritzker can transform that green into gold by picking a black running mate, thereby giving them a plausible pretext to back him. Pritzker would have to dump $50,000 in "walking around" money into each ward, township and county in both the primary and the election.
In Illinois primaries, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run as a team and get a single vote. Pritzker-Zopp or Pritzker-Raoul would be potent, with Raoul the most likely, because if he is defeated, he could use the visibility to run for mayor in 2019. Rauner’s team already has its researchers digging for dirt in Pritzker’s background, checking his income sources; in a lifetime spent raising and donating money, there is bound to be something exploitable. Rauner’s goal would be to have Pritzker nominated and then flame out just before the election.
Fifth, there are a handful of white candidates other than Quinn, who has $314,494 in his campaign account, who can’t self-fund. They are U.S. Representative Cheri Boustos (D-17) of Rock Island, state Treasurer Michael Frerichs of Champaign, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and former state senator Dan Kotowski of Park Ridge. Kennedy’s name and Pritzker’s money will deter all but Quinn.
Sixth, Rauner needs 1.2 million Democratic MIAs, meaning 2016 Clinton voters who will be missing in action in 2018. Clinton won Illinois 2,977,498-2,118,179, a margin of 859,319 votes, getting 55.4 percent of the vote. Rauner beat Quinn 1,823,627-1,681,343 in 2014, a margin of 142,284 votes, getting 50 percent. In the 2012 Obama-Mitt Romney race, the vote was 3,019,512-2,135,216.
Quinn got 1,338,169 fewer votes than Obama and Clinton got 1,296,155 more votes than Quinn, while Rauner got 311,589 fewer votes than Romney and 294,552 fewer votes than Trump. To win a second term, Rauner needs 2018 turnout to fall to 2014 levels, which was about 3.5 million, way down from the 4.7 million turnout in 2016. Quinn won Chicago by 372,382 votes, and Clinton won the city by 777,626 votes. Rauner will lose unless minority turnout declines by 30 to 35 percent in Cook County.
Seventh, the Democrats have a problem of positioning. Madigan and the Democrats have been bashing Rauner for being a rich white guy who takes care of the wealthy and helps the rich get richer. That might be awkward in 2018 if his Democratic opponent is another white guy who is even richer. It will be a battle of the plutocrats, with Pritzker or Kennedy, both born with a silver spoon in their mouth, telling the gullible common folk that they feel their pain more than Rauner feels their pain and that they will levy more taxes on their rich friends. Sure.
Then there is the problem of separation from Mike Madigan, who wants no tax hike lest it destroy his majority. Illinois’ fiscal plight cannot be solved unless there are huge budget cuts or a new revenue stream. How can the Democrats criticize Rauner for not raising taxes if they won’t admit that they will and must raise taxes? Closing "corporate loopholes" and more taxes on the "wealthy" won’t eradicate the state’s $45 billion deficit and $111 billion pension shortfall.
Rauner has a shot in 2018. His argument is simple: I may not have "fixed" Springfield, but without me being there it would have been a lot worse. My prediction: If Pritzker, Kennedy or Quinn replace Rauner, it will be a whole lot worse.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.