Unions’ ad campaign to fight Rauner candidacy
by RUSS STEWART
Be careful what you wish for. You may not be content with what you get. According to Democratic sources, Illinois’ powerful public sector unions, the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, are preparing to pump $1 million or more into the 2014 Republican governor primary in order to wound or defeat big-spending Bruce Rauner.
The unions’ theory is indistinct. Is Rauner, who spent $1.5 million on television ads in November and December promising to "shake up" Springfield, the Republicans’ weakest or strongest candidate? The unions’ upcoming barrage of ads ripping Rauner as "not good for Illinois," "extreme," "reckless," an enemy of "working families" (meaning anti-union), and "rich and inexperienced" will be intended to soften him up for Governor Pat Quinn.
Instead of expending $5million to $6 million to rescue Quinn in November, the unions want to defeat or discredit Rauner before his anti-establishment crusade gets legs.
Four Republicans are seeking the 2014 nomination for governor, a choice prize given the dismal condition of Illinois’ government. The outcome on March 18 will be a harbinger of 2014 political trends. There is no explicit Tea Party candidate, but Rauner, a wealthy venture capitalist, is running as the big bucks "outsider" who will, as his ads proclaim, "shake up" Springfield and rein in the power of the public sector unions. In a crowded field, that’s a smart macro-strategy. Rauner is defining himself early and differentiating himself from his primary opponents.
Also running are state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, state Senator and 2010 losing candidate Bill Brady and state Senator and 2010 primary loser Kirk Dillard. All are reasonably well known and have proven political bases, but they lack Rauner’s deep pockets.
In the 2010 primary, each contender employed a micro-strategy keyed to ideology and geography. In that seven-candidate contest, Brady topped Dillard by 193 votes, with just 20.3 percent of the vote in a turnout of 767,485. Brady then proceeded, in an anti-Obama, Republican-friendly year, to lose the governor’s race to Quinn by 31,834 votes, despite winning 98 of the state’s 102 counties. Brady lost because he could not sufficiently expand beyond his Downstate, socially conservative base.
Rauner’s campaign team understands the parochialism of Republican voters. His strategy is to transcend ideology and geography, brand himself as the candidate best able to beat Quinn, and run against the Springfield establishment, not against his primary foes. In a Republican contest, there are five battlegrounds — Downstate, which is basically south of Interstate 80 and west of the Fox River, DuPage County, the Collar Counties, including Lake, Kane, Will and McHenry, suburban Cook County and Chicago. Each area delivers roughly one-fifth of the vote. In 2010 Andy McKenna, Adam Andrzejewski and Dan Proft all ran as red-meat conservatives, Dillard and former state attorney general (and 2002 losing candidate for governor) Jim Ryan fractured their DuPage base, and Brady swallowed up most of Downstate.
rady got just 8,253 votes out of 159,028 cast in Cook County, an anemic 5.1 percent.
Ryan topped Dillard in DuPage County, which cast 94,780 votes, 27,408-21,566, with the conservative McKenna/Andrzejewski/Proft vote being 37,358 and Brady getting 5,246 votes.
How could somebody so marginalized as Brady expect to be a viable candidate? In retrospect the answer was that he couldn’t. Brady lacked money, a seasoned campaign team and an overriding issue. After the primary, Brady should have quickly defined himself and made the election a referendum on Quinn, impeached former governor Rod Blagojevich, Democratic arrogance, and the state’s fiscal mess. Instead, Quinn went on the attack, blasting Brady as a pro-gun, anti-abortion "extremist." It worked.
Brauner understands reality. He knows he must define himself and his issues early and pound on them relentlessly, and he knows he must frame the contest as between the inept, complacent and arrogant insiders (meaning Quinn, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and the Democratic legislative majority) and the virtuous, reform-minded outsiders.
Half of Brauner’s November-December media buy came from his own pocket. Quinn spent close to $20 million to win in 2010, and Rauner will match that this year.
For a change, the Republican primary will not focus on social issues. Gay marriage, abortion restrictions and gun rights will not be paramount. Electability will. The state’s pension debt, unpaid Medicaid vendors and the ever-declining bond rating mean that fiscal issues will be uppermost. Conservative think tanks rate Quinn as one of the nation’s worst governors. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker cut taxes by $651 million in his first 2 years in office and balanced the state budget. Quinn raised the state’s income tax, and he wants to "solve" the fiscal crisis by raising taxes more. More than $5 billion in state Medicaid obligations remain unpaid.
Already, "Beat Rauner" is the mantra. For Brauner’s opponents, a decision about strategy awaits. Brady is defined — and burdened — by his 2010 defeat. Why does he merit a second chance? His only path to victory lies in trying to isolate Rauner as a social issue liberal. About a third of Republican primary voters could be swayed. Rutherford, a former state senator from Downstate Pontiac, is trying to position himself as the "adult" in the race, a statewide winner who could, like former governors Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar, make Illinois "work." Being a conciliator has no special appeal to Republicans, although in an election he might expand his base.
Dillard’s fate was sealed in 2010. Had he won the primary, he would be governor today. He has not identified himself with any hot-button state issue, was not front and center on pensions, and has had desultory fund-raising. Rutherford and Dillard are perceived as moderates, and Brady is perceived as conservative. Downstater Rutherford takes votes away from both Brady (geographically) and Dillard (ideologically). By eschewing labels and running against Quinn, Rauner adroitly focuses the primary on electability, not purity.
The anti-Rauner threesome have only one option, to gang up and pillory Rauner. To be sure, Rauner has baggage. He is a close friend of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, often vacationing with him, he is a multi-millionaire whose business practices can be questioned and attacked, he has never been active in the Republican Party, he is not "pure" on social issues, and he has no campaign infrastructure.
However, Rauner did receive the endorsement of the Cook County Republican Party, which gives him some credibility.
Some or all of the threesome have to go negative, tear down Rauner, and hope that the anti-Rauner or non-Rauner vote will gravitate to them. That, of course, takes money. History, at least in other Midwestern states, has shown that candidates perceived as attack dogs do not benefit from their efforts. In South Dakota in 2002, Mike Rounds, an obscure state senator, won the Republican primary after the two better known contenders went viral on each other. Ditto in the 2012 Nebraska Senate primary, in which another obscure state senator, Deb Fischer, won after the frontrunners poisoned themselves.
The consensus is that Rutherford is the fallback candidate. "Rutherford will win the primary and will beat Quinn," one Democratic state senator predicted.
That senator knows of what he speaks, since the cash-rich unions who represent state employees, SEIU and AFSCME, are about to embark on a "preemptive" campaign to beat or wound Rauner. The unions, which bitterly opposed the Quinn-Madigan-Cullerton pension "reform," usually plow up to $8 million into Democratic campaigns. They are not enamored of Quinn, but they view a Republican governor as abhorrent. They also want to save some money. Their idea is to float $1 million in anti-Rauner ads, hoping to isolate and estrange him from blue collar and suburban independent voters.
According to the 2010 census, the state is 21.3 percent blue collar, with 13.2 percent of the population employed by government. It is 16.6 percent Hispanic, 14.5 percent black, and 4.7 percent Asian. The Democrats’ political base is a solid 45 percent. As in 2010, Quinn must win Cook County by more than 500,000 votes and hold the Downstate and Collar County Republican margin to less than that. Rauner must cut heavily into the Cook County suburban independent vote, slicing off 100,000 Quinn/Obama voters.
It will be a battle of definition: Rauner to define himself as the anti-Quinn and the unions to define Rauner as the Tea Party "extremist."
There is a precedent: In Missouri in 2012, the Democrats purchased almost $1 million in ads hyping suburban Saint Louis Republican U.S. Representative Todd Akin as the "true conservative." Akin was the weakest Republican, and he won the U.S. Senate primary narrowly, made a boneheaded remark about "legitimate rape," and lost a sure pick-up seat.
The bottom line: Rauner is not boneheaded, but nor is he unflawed. If the unions target him in the Republican primary, they better beat him, and with three foes, that’s unlikely