News Local/State

Rauner, On The (Ad?) Attack

Gov. Bruce Rauner at a press conference on the final day of the legislature's session on Sunday.

Gov. Bruce Rauner held a press conference on the final day of the legislature's session on Sunday; days before he had say that was the deadline for a deal between he and the General Assembly's Democratic leaders. None was reached. The Governor has never said what the consequence of the broken deadline may be, but many suspect that it'll be a rapid-fire ad campaign. (Photo: Brian Mackey)

Your favorite TV show might be interrupted with a pointed message purchased by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, though  the governor is refusing to say whether he's going to buy TV time to promote his agenda as he battles with the legislature's Democratic leaders.

When there's an election ahead, it seems like shows are interrupted more than ever. Leading up to Illinois' last election, in November, they were coming non-stop.

Though the field of presidential candidates seems to widen by the day, with that primary not until March you'd think you're home free for awhile. Not so fast.

Rauner, a Republican, is in a battle of wills and political might with Democratic leadership: House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton.

They're at odds over the budget, business practices, union rights and more, and it's been widely reported that Rauner is planning to once again win over the public using the strategy that helped him get elected, TV commercials.

Pres. Cullerton says the governor told him so last week.

"He made it clear that in the next few weeks he's going to launch a multi-million dollar negative ad campaign designed to demonize those who are standing up for the middle class," Cullerton said.

So far, though, the airwaves are quiet. Federal records don't show any big media buys in major Illinois markets.

Rauner was asked about it directly, but will only say, "We're not gonna talk and speculate about messaging going forward."

The governor notes that Speaker Madigan's organization, is already targeting Republican legislators with pamphlets in voters' mailboxes. A couple have gone out to Oswego Republican Rep. Mark Batinick's neighbors. One piece accuses Batinick of failing to control property taxes. Batinick says his voting record's being taken out of context.

“And I'm going to lead and I'm not going to worry about the mailers," Batinick said. "It's hard to do but we've been living in a culture here where we have been worried about mailers and that's probably why we're in the situation that we're in.”

There have also been mailers sent by the conservative, Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity, knocking Democratic legislators for supposedly refusing to go along with property tax freezes.

Even so, a blitz of TV ads is a lot more expensive, and is seen in political circles as upping the ante.

Cullerton says if Rauner goes forward with a barrage of negative ads, it'll make reaching a resolution even more difficult.

"Nothing can be more damaging to the prospects of compromise than deploying these Washington D.C. type campaign tactics -- campaign tactics -- rather than working on a bipartisan solution," Cullerton said.

House GOP Leader Jim Durkin seems to almost relish it, now that the expensive shoe is on the other party's foot, so to speak.

"For the past 20 years Republicans have been outgunned, outspent almost to the point of two or three to one. I was outspent significantly this past cycle," Durkin said. "So they're not used to this. So they can call it what they want, but the fact is, the governor's going to do what he's going to do."

Say the ads do pop, and they're directed at Cullerton and Madigan. Negative ads are known to be more effective at swaying voters, but maybe not during the summer, when TV viewing drops.

There's also a risk they'll work too well and taint not just Democrats, but Rauner himself and every other Illinois politician. 

"If you do this media war, all it does --- people don't differentiate Democrat from Republican, they don't differential governor from legislator; you're all bad, in their minds,"  Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, said. "If the people are negative about something, they're going to be negative on everybody. And nobody but nobody wins on that type of situation.”

Maybe that thinking is why Rauner is holding off, and why right now, you can watch an episode of Seinfeld, or the Big Bang Theory, or the local news without the interruption of campaign ads.

Perhaps Rauner won't run the ads as an olive branch to Democrats. Or maybe it was all a bluff in the first place; a negotiation ploy. Don't lose your TV remote just yet.

One thing is for sure, cost won't be the determining factor. Rauner has $20 million in his campaign bank account, ready to be spent, and there's more where that came from.

Still, for now he's relying on a cheaper method; he spent Monday getting his message making the rounds with "exclusive" interviews with radio and TV reporters.