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Miller: Rauner tries to overcome stumble on minimum wage

Updated: February 16, 2014 6:12AM



If Bruce Rauner manages to successfully back away from his recently unearthed statement in December that he favored reducing the state’s minimum wage by $1 an hour, he will have dodged a serious political bullet.

A new Capitol Fax/We Ask America poll indicates that lowering the minimum wage is strongly opposed in Illinois.

Asked if they would be “more likely or less likely to vote for a gubernatorial candidate who supports lowering the state’s minimum wage to the national rate of $7.25 an hour,” a whopping 79 percent of respondents said they’d be less likely. That’s a result that could have an impact on Election Day, particularly in light of the messenger — a little-known billionaire candidate whose advertising campaign is trying hard to turn him into a “regular guy.”

Women were 84 percent less likely and men 73 percent less likely to vote for a candidate who favored reducing the minimum wage by $1 an hour, according to the poll taken Jan. 8 of 1,135 likely voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent. Democrats were 90 percent less likely, independents were 77 percent and even Republicans were 63 percent less likely to vote for such a candidate.

As the controversy was building last week, Rauner told a Carbondale audience that if the minimum wage were increased in Illinois he would only support it if the state also made “our labor regulations and our tax burden much more attractive to small business.” He said he could still support lowering the minimum wage “in the context of dramatically improving our schools and creating a business environment where everybody’s got jobs.”

But by Wednesday, Rauner had completely backed away, claiming he was “flippant” when he unequivocally said in a December forum in the Quad Cities that he wanted to roll back the minimum wage to the national level because Illinois’ $1-an-hour difference was “hurting our economy.”

After a firestorm of controversy erupted, Rauner claimed that he could support raising the minimum wage as long as it was coupled with some key legal changes, such as unspecified worker compensation and tort reforms.

The Democratic Governors Association, which has formed an Illinois political action committee that will likely be used as a conduit to attack Rauner in the GOP primary, attempted to counter Rauner’s spin.

“They say a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth,” Danny Kanner, the association’s communications director, said. “In the case of Bruce Rauner, he showed his true colors when he said that Illinois’ minimum wage needs to be cut ... and voters won’t soon forget.”

If voters do forget, then Rauner’s new position in favor of boosting the minimum wage finds favor with most voters when asked: “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for a gubernatorial candidate who supports raising the state’s minimum wage rate to $10 an hour?”

According to the poll, 55 percent of voters would be more likely to support such a candidate, while 38 percent would be less likely. Women would be far more supportive (62 percent) than men (46 percent), and it’s a make or break issue for 81 percent of Democrats.

But 65 percent of Republicans would be less likely to support a candidate who backed a hike to $10 an hour, so Rauner may have created a problem with his GOP primary voter base.

Barely mentioned in the media coverage of the issue last week is that state Sen. Kirk Dillard told the same audience as Rauner that he favored allowing the “marketplace” to set the minimum wage and not the government.

That position is as unpopular as Rauner’s original push for lowering the wage by a buck — 76 percent of poll respondents said they’d be less likely to vote for a candidate for governor “who supported having no minimum wage whatsoever.” The poll showed that 75 percent of women and 79 percent of men would be less likely to vote for the candidate, as would 82 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents and even 63 percent of Republicans.

“Anyone suggesting eliminating it altogether may end up in the Guinness Book of World Records for the dumbest political idea ever,” pollster Gregg Durham said about the minimum-wage issue.

Maybe not, but close enough.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.



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