Illinois Issues: Gubernatorial Candidates Have Fence-Mending Ahead
Incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner probably thought he didn't need to worry about his only Republican opponent, state Rep. Jeanne Ives, during the primary campaign. In the past, he'd called her a "fringe candidate" and decided to forgo campaigning against her until just a few weeks before election day.
When the votes were tallied election night, Rauner had snuck past Ives by just 3 percentage points. It was closer than most expected, and the governor acknowledged that in his victory speech by saying he had heard the message those dissatisfied voters were sending him. "I have traveled the state and I have listened to you," he said in his election night speech.
Both Rauner and Democratic candidate J.B Pritzker face challenges in the upcoming general election. But their challenges are different; Pritzker needs to shed his billionaire-out-of-touch image to garner support from the progressive Democrats who largely stood behind state Sen. Daniel Biss. He also needs to show he isn't part of the so-called Michael Madigan machine. Rauner, on the other hand, must try to get more than the 50 percent of Republicans who voted to renew their trust in him and get them out to the polls in November.
Chris Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, said the governor has the more difficult task of restoring trust with a large segment of his party's base.
"And so the question is can Rauner look to them - he doesn't have to worry about them voting for Pritzker, I think that's pretty clear. What he has to do is get them to come out to vote in November."
There are still questions about Pritzker, who once ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1998, although some vetting did occur in the primary race. The public heard a decade-old taped conversation with Rod Blagojevich in which Pritzker talks about political appointments with the now-imprisoned former governor.
Progressive voters might not see Pritzker as their first choice, but many seem willing to come into the fold. Heather Dykes, a human resources professional in Springfield, said while she would have preferred Biss as the Democratic candidate, she'll vote for Pritzker in November.
"I think most of the supporters are going to vote for J.B. I think some had a couple of issues with J.B., mainly that he's from a very, very wealthy class and concerns that he necessarily doesn't understand the needs of people in the middle to lower classes."
Biss billed himself as the only progressive in the race and called out Pritzker's ties to House Speaker Madigan. Biss has yet to formally endorse Pritzker - saying he wants more assurances the nominee will work for issues like campaign finance reform. "It's really important for us to say more than just we are against Bruce Rauner. I would love for J.B. to empower me to make that kind of affirmative endorsement of his campaign."
Galia Slayen, spokeswoman for the Pritzker campaign, says Pritzker is willing to continue pushing for something a lot of progressives want: a graduated income tax.
Just as Trump upended the Republican establishment, progressives also have made inroads on the Democratic side. Clem Balanoff is co-chair of Our Revolution Illinois - a group that grew out of the Bernie Sanders campaign. He sees more Democrats are staking out liberal positions.
Balanoff also said party dissatisfaction has now become much more pronounced at the national and state levels:
"Have I seen it in the past? I think I've seen it in the past periodically and then it dies down. It certainly doesn't seem like that's going to be the case, especially with Donald Trump as president."
Rauner has done his best to separate himself from President Trump, but there are similarities in their backgrounds. Both tout success in business and very wealthy. Rauner's wealth has been a key rallying point for Democrats, who view him as out of touch with the working class and spotlight his attacks on organized labor to make their point.
Rauner has been traveling the state campaigning, it appears he has yet to bring Ives' backers into the fold. This may not be an easy feat to accomplish - even for the wealthy governor. Ives was heavily outspent, but she was able to easily tap into the dissatisfaction among conservatives who felt Rauner had broken his promise on key legislation, including a measure to allow public funding for abortions. Despite a push from conservative groups - and even Chicago Cardinal Blaise Cupich - to hold the governor to his word, Rauner signed the legislation into law.
Ives herself makes that point, saying many of her supporters feel betrayed. "There are supporter voters of mine, they are saying we are not going to vote for him regardless of what he says."
While the circumstances might be different, the insurgent campaign Ives ran harkens to Donald Trump defeating establishment Republicans on his way to the White House. Those who felt left out, or maybe taken for granted, went for Trump and sent a message.
In Illinois, Rauner doesn't deny there is still work for him to do. Soon after election night, Rauner hit the campaign trail to acknowledge there were some divisive issues. "And I know now, as I've known for a while that we need to find common ground to bridge the divides."
As for Ives, she has said she will vote for Rauner but made it clear she has no plans to campaign for him.
While both Pritzker and Rauner will spend the next several months telling all voters why they should be elected, they'll also be busy mending fences - in their own political backyards.
State Sen. Sam McCann - a Plainview Republican, announced Thursday morning his bid to join Rauner and Pritzker as a third-party candidate. Running as what's being called the "Conservative Party", McCann says he wants voters in Illinois to have options.
The Pritzker campaign issued a statement welcoming McCann to the race, while the Rauner campaign said McCann "is the worst kind of political opportunist". Commenting on his bid, McCann said he was ready to fix Rauner's mistakes.
Illinois Issues is in-depth reporting and analysis that takes you beyond the headlines to provide a deeper understanding of our state. Illinois Issues is produced by NPR Illinois in Springfield.
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