Miller: Democrats may try to stop Rauner in GOP primary
Bruce Rauner has closer ties to top Democrats in this state and nation than many Democrats do, is pro-choice and reluctant to say where he stands on gay marriage, so you wouldn’t think he’d have much chance at winning a Republican primary election for governor.
But the retired multi-millionaire is running a pretty smart campaign and raising tons more money than his opponents, so nobody can count him out.
State Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) told the Chicago Sun-Times he raised a mere $75,000 this past quarter, which ended Sept. 30. The Chicago Tribune reported that state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) had raised $239,000 in large contributions during the quarter, but he’s still carrying quite a lot of debt from his failed 2010 governor’s race. State Treasurer Dan Rutherford says he raised $333,000 during the quarter and has about $1.2 million in the bank.
Rauner, on the other hand, raised more than $1 million in the third quarter and about $3 million since he kicked off his campaign. And with his personal wealth, he could spend lots, lots more.
More than a few Democrats and even some Republicans are wary of Rauner, saying that somebody else with deep pockets may need to step in to snuff out his campaign before he makes it out of the primary. And Democratic-affiliated groups appear to be the most logical source of that cash.
As polling has shown, Rauner has some serious negative issues in a GOP primary that might be OK with voters in a general election.
His close affiliation to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for instance, has killer negative numbers among Republicans, but it won’t exactly be easy for Gov. Pat Quinn to use that against the guy in the general election. Rauner and his wife have supported Democratic candidates, which ain’t good in a Republican contest but is a nice positive once the primary is over.
As noted above, Rauner is pro-choice and won’t say where he stands on gay marriage, but he has left himself more than enough wiggle room to pivot toward support gay marriage once the primary election is over.
In other words, if Rauner wins the Republican nomination, he could be a nightmare for the Democratic Party.
Rauner is strongly anti-union and has all but vowed to break the public employee unions. So it seems only logical that those unions or the Democratic Governors Association and/or someone else would decide that beating Rauner in a primary election would be much more cost efficient than letting him out of that tight, ideological Republican pen and into the wide-open spaces of a general election.
This sort of thing has never been done statewide in Illinois, but it was pulled off last year by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and the national Senate committee. They spent a combined $1.7 million in Missouri’s Republican primary to help nominate the far-right Tea Partier Todd Akin, who went on to self-immolate in the fall campaign. The Democrats spent more money on Akin’s behalf than Akin did in his campaign.
So, could it happen here? Nobody’s talking yet, but it sure looks like a good investment, particularly for the public employee unions.
Rauner has talked openly of shutting down state government, if necessary, to bring down the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that represents most state workers. His pension reform ideas include tossing out the employees’ traditional, defined-benefit pension program for a defined-contribution system such as a 401(k) plan.
Rauner opposes teacher tenure, the right of teachers to strike and on and on and on. He also favors making Illinois a “right to work” state, which labor loathes.
Quinn would probably prefer that Democrats and their supporters try to stop Rauner in March. Rauner could wind up spending a king’s ransom in the November election. He’s also close enough to Emanuel to make Quinn more than a little nervous.
So, spending a few million dollars before the March primary to expose Rauner’s Democratic side to Republican voters would be a whole lot cheaper than the tens of millions it could cost to fight him a year from now.
Keep in mind that it’s not that Quinn would get off easy with any of the other three Republican candidates. And it’s not that Rauner would be a slam-dunk winner in the primary, either.
Quinn could use the playbook that President Obama used against the wealthy Mitt Romney last year (a playbook that Obama borrowed from Quinn’s 2010 race for governor against Brady).
But Rauner appears to pose the biggest risk to the Democrats because of his moderate stances on social issues, his Chicago connections and his ability to bring in money from others and himself.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.