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STATE AFFAIRS: Will Rauner win in 2018?

Ottawa Daily Times

Thursday, October 12, 2017  |  Article  |  Jim Nowlan

Abortion (1) , Rauner, Bruce

Politics is fundamentally a game, a serious one certainly. So, like racetrack handicappers, political junkies are captivated with prognosticating the winners in top races.

 

And thus it is at the moment, following GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner’s recent controversial signature on a Democratic bill that provides taxpayer funding for abortions in Illinois.

 

This enraged many in his social conservative base, prompting the question: Whither Rauner in 2018? What do readers think?

 

I “ran the traps” of nine respected junkies, bipartisan, though most lean Republican. These friends have either run for and won important offices, managed big campaigns, or as top lobbyists have determined which candidates were to get big money from their interest group employers.

 

Six of nine of my insider friends say the governor will not win — if he even runs, as one thinks he won’t.

 

As I see it, there are several, quite volatile variables at play for elections that are about half a year away (the March 20 primaries) and more than a year off (the November 2018 general). The variables:

 

· Money. Big dollars have basically replaced political party organizations. Rauner has told insiders he will spend up to $130 million in this election cycle. His leading prospective opponent, and so solely because of his money, is Democrat J. B. Pritzker. His wholly inherited wealth of $3+ billion makes Rauner’s money look like chump change. TV station owners are salivating.

 

· Trust. This factor is almost always more important in a voter’s decision than are “the issues.” Rauner has damaged his trust rating badly by lying, even to the Catholic cardinal of Chicago, among others, about his intentions on the abortion bill.

 

· Voters. Yes, we count. Illinois is considered a blue (Democratic) state, though Republicans win statewide office rather frequently. Twenty-eighteen is an “off-year election,” i.e., no presidential contest. The party in the White House (Republican) generally fares less well than the opposition in off-years.

 

And, as one junkie notes, Illinois may gain as many as 200,000 displaced Puerto Riquenos in the coming year, here to live with family and friends; most are assumed to be Dems.

 

· Social conservatives. This important group could either decide to abandon Rauner (they were never wild about him and his longstanding pro-choice position), or not vote in that race, or hold their noses and vote for him again, on the premise that any Dem would be even worse.

 

· Mike Madigan. Since 2014, Rauner has spent millions, quite successfully, to turn Madigan, Illinois House speaker and state Democratic Party chair — in elective office going on half a century — into the Devil Incarnate. My friends at Connie’s Country Kitchen now see him as the sinister poster child for all of the present problems in Illinois.

 

Madigan is the perfect foil, especially Downstate, for a contest that would try to turn Madigan, rather than Rauner, into the primary topic of the campaign. “I need another term to drive evil Madigan out of office. Help me do it.”

 

· The opposing candidate. Incumbents don’t run against an ideal candidate; they run against a flawed human, maybe badly so. My junkie friends say Pritzker comes across neither well, nor with sincerity. Chris Kennedy, of the famous but fading political family, has

also not impressed my astute friends; they say he fails to project either charisma or “vision.”

 

A couple of my friends think that all Rauner’s money could actually work against him. The thought is that voters could be turned off by endless ads that apply pancake makeup over his obvious warts.

 

For my part, I think Rauner can use his money, expected to be multiples of anything spent in Illinois before, to define himself anew to a voting public that doesn’t follow things so closely as my junkie friends. At the same time, he can make Madigan the focal point of the whole campaign.

 

For example, disgraced ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich used $29 million successfully in 2008 to define himself as the good guy and his decent opponent as a crazy lady, even as Blago was already under a cloud of corruption charges.

 

So, Rauner in a squeaker says I.

 

My friends do, however, offer a persuasive voter analysis. They say Rauner has no base left; it’s not blacks, Latinos, Dems, business, unions, conservative GOPers. Liberals will applaud his abortion bill action, and then vote Democratic next November.

 

Further, in 2014 many in the 140,000-vote margin of victory over Quinn (out of 3.5 million votes cast, and just 50.3 percent of the total vote for governor) were voting against incumbent Quinn, and not for Rauner. So, where does he get his votes, friends say?

 

Yet keep in mind that most of my friends and I earlier thought, “No way in hell Trump could ever win.”

 

Based on the above, and your own assessment and instincts, “Will Rauner win in 2018?”

 

• JIM NOWLAN is a former Illinois legislator, agency director and aide to three governors. He also was lead author of "Illinois Politics: A Citizen's Guide" (University of Illinois Press, 2010). Nowlan can be reached at jnowlan3@gmail.com.