Politics

03.19.14

Illinois’s Mitt Romney Takes On Rod Blagojevich’s Successor

2014’s Illinois’s gubernatorial race is shaping up to a repeat of the 2012 presidential election . . . only without the fun parts.

Are you nostalgic for a Republican with a private equity fortune running against an unpopular incumbent Democrat? Well, you’ll love the governor’s race in Illinois this year.

Tuesday night, Republicans in the Land of Lincoln narrowly nominated Bruce Rauner to be their gubernatorial nominee. Rauner is worth nearly a billion dollars and owns nine different homes, though it’s unclear if any have car elevators. In the past, he has boasted that he’s not just in the top 1 percent, he’s in the top .01 percent. Despite spending $14 million in his primary, including $6 million of his own money, Rauner narrowly achieved victory over a divided Republican field, led by State Sen. Kirk Dillard, a relative moderate who hurt himself in the eyes of some GOP primary voters by appearing in a 2008 ad for his old poker buddy, Barack Obama.  (In back of the field was State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, whose campaign collapsed in a gay sex scandal. Rutherford conceded within minutes of polls closing Tuesday night.)

By contrast, incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn only faced nominal opposition in his primary. A former lieutenant governor, Quinn became Illinois’s chief executive when his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office in 2009 in the midst of a corruption scandal. Once in office, Quinn has fought with organized labor in order to implement pension reform. Quinn also cut spending and raised taxes to deal with the state’s deficit. The result left the Democratic governor, previously best known as a good-government gadfly, with approval ratings in the low 30s. However, he’s been able to dodge political obstacles he’s faced so far; scraping to victory in the GOP wave of 2010 and watching a primary challenge from former White House chief of staff Bill Daley fizzle out.

Quinn is still favored to win reelection. Despite his deep unpopularity and Rauner’s deep pockets, Illinois is still a Democratic state. And while Quinn may have alienated unions with his pension reform bill, he won’t lack for labor support. He seems like Samuel Gompers compared to Rauner who talks about Scott Walker as his model in governing. The race in November will be close though. But, for all the money Rauner spends, it still will be an uphill battle for him to make the Governor’s mansion his tenth home.