If there’s a common observation regarding Gov. Pat Quinn’s future, it’s this: He’s one darn lucky guy.
We know the story: He faced the most formidable of challengers — the well-financed and personally popular Lisa Madigan as well as Bill Daley, who comes from another big Chicago family name with plenty of connections.
Then the Metra scandal broke, with allegations from Metra CEO Alex Clifford that he was forced out because he refused to acquiesce to clout hiring requests. It included an entanglement with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who asked the agency to give a campaign worker a raise, and then withdrew the request.
Days later, Lisa Madigan pulled out. Daley pulled the plug not long after.
So here we are.
Quinn faces no major opposition in the Democratic primary election, allowing him to raise money unopposed while four Republican candidates battle each other for the nomination.
But the Republican primary battle thus far has been lopsided.
Venture capitalist Bruce Rauner has far outraised his three opponents — combined. Before the new year, he already had spent more than $2 million on TV ads. Aside from having his own millions to tap for the campaign, he’s managed to build loyalty among the biggest GOP donors, not to mention his circle of fellow North Shore millionaires.
Right now, Rauner is working to cultivate an image of inevitability, aiming his TV ads directly at Quinn and ignoring the fact that he first must win a primary race.
Here’s a guide on who’s who in the gubernatorial election in 2014.
Bruce Rauner: If social media is any barometer, Rauner is working it. He often pays to “promote” his tweets, meaning they show up at the top of users’ Twitter news feeds.
On December 13, his account tweeted: “Are you ready for me to hammer down Springfield politics? Retweet if you are.”
It generated more than 100 retweets, a nice number when you compare it with his competitors. But it’s clear that Rauner rattles more people — and not in a good way.
One Twitter user responded: “Did you buy that hammer with the rich fees you got managing IL pension money … Hypocrite.”
That’s one weakness that will follow the Winnetka Republican. The same person who is railing against union control of Springfield has made millions off of union pension investments. In 2011, the Philadelphia Inquirer cited an exchange between Rauner and Pennsylvania’s then-governor, Ed Rendell. Rauner cut Rendell two substantial checks, totaling $300,000, for his campaign fund at the time that Rauner’s private-equity firm, GTCR, was managing $110 million in pension funds for the State Employee Retirement System in Pennsylvania, according to the article.
“After Rendell became governor, the state doubled its stake in GTCR funds, to $226 million. That meant at least $4 million more in management fees to the firm,” the Inquirer reported then.
For his part, Rauner has repeatedly said he doesn’t apologize for being successful and says investments made on behalf of the pension systems were smart and ended up benefitting the pensioners.
With a strong campaign organization behind him, Rauner has played his cards carefully. He reported making more than $50 million in 2012 and could have funded his campaign early on and lifted the caps for all the candidates. Had he done that earlier in the campaign, the landscape may have been much different. By waiting, Rauner proved to Republicans that he had the ability to raise money on his own. Mega-rich donors, including the likes of Citadel’s Ken Griffin and GOP operative Ron Gidwitz, gravitated to Rauner, and in Gidwitz’s case, he abandoned state Sen. Kirk Dillard, whose gubernatorial campaign he championed in 2010.
Rauner eventually put in more than $250,000 of his own money, lifting the caps for everyone running — even Quinn.
Of course, Rauner’s battle with the unions means there’s a target on his head.
Rauner waged war with the unions early on, and by doing so, he’s managed to stir the pot to the point that it’s about to boil over. Unions, as well as some of Rauner’s GOP enemies, are joining forces to launch an anti-Rauner ad campaign that targets Rauner specifically and steers primary voters to any of the three other candidates.
Another potential weakness is Rauner’s relationship with Chicago’s Democratic mayor, Rahm Emanuel. One anti-Rauner blog has dubbed him “Rahmner” because of past donations to Emanuel and other Democrats. It’s a message that won’t play well in a GOP primary. Conservatives in particular are not fond of Emanuel and his work with the White House as former chief of staff to President Barack Obama.
Dan Rutherford: The Illinois state treasurer and longtime state lawmaker from Chenoa before that has crisscrossed the state and tweets all about it. Rutherford has garnered a steady flow of campaign contributions — big and small.
Rutherford took a shot at Rauner’s cash drop early on. “We’ve got supporters out there. We don’t have to pay people to support us,” Rutherford told the Chicago Sun-Times in October. “We don’t have political consultants coming from out of Illinois telling us about the politics of Illinois.”
Still, after he had been outraised and outspent in the race, Rutherford came out against landmark pension reform legislation that passed both the Illinois House and Senate in December. The deal crafted by the top four legislative leaders and quickly signed into law by Quinn, promised to save the state $160 billion in the long-run but incensed public employee unions, who soon filed a lawsuit. Rutherford, who had repeatedly chided Quinn for not solving the pension dilemma, calling it a “crisis,” spoke out against the pension reform deal, saying the measure is “unconstitutional.”
By backing away from the deal, Rutherford preserved any possible money that unions might send his way if they decide to become involved in the Republican primary.
Rutherford has polled well, however, and his central Illinois base is thought to overlap with another contender, state Sen. Bill Brady.
Bill Brady: The state senator from Bloomington is the most conservative of the field, including remaining vocal in his view against same-sex marriage in Illinois, which was signed into law in November. In 2010, Brady emerged the winner in the Republican gubernatorial primary with a razor-thin lead over Dillard. He went on to lose to Quinn in another close race during the general election. After spending millions on advertising in that campaign, Brady has consistently polled well, still benefiting from his statewide name recognition.
In December, Brady voted to support the controversial pension reform compromise. His fellow Republican rival in the Illinois Senate, Dillard, voted against it, and Rutherford spoke out against it. From his remarks the night of the vote, it’s clear Brady will use his vote as a way to stand out from his competitors.
“Running for governor requires making tough decisions. It requires leadership, not standing behind a press spokesman or staying silent, as my three opponents in the Republican gubernatorial primary have done,” Brady said in a statement. “The spokesman for Bruce Rauner, one of my opponents, talks about ‘insiders’ keeping the public in the dark on the details of the bill. There is nothing in this legislation that has not been discussed and debated publicly, including during pension reform debates on other proposals last spring. If Mr. Rauner were to talk about ‘insiders,’ maybe he could talk about his connections with [convicted political insider] Stuart Levine and Ed Rendell and his pension business.”
Kirk Dillard: The longtime state senator from Hinsdale has the backing of one of the most popular Republican governors in Illinois — Jim Edgar. Having served as Edgar’s chief of staff, Dillard has maintained a long-term relationship with the former governor, who has donated generously to Dillard’s campaign and was on hand during Dillard’s campaign kickoff. Still, Edgar’s name recognition is waning and only can do so much to prop up the gubernatorial hopeful. Dillard tapped state Rep. Jil Tracy from Quincy as his running mate, hoping to maximize downstate ties. The Tracy family also comes from wealth and is expected to help donate to the campaign.
Dillard suffered an early blow when key GOP insider and moneyman Gidwitz announced he would no longer offer Dillard his support. Instead, Gidwitz went on to co-chair Rauner’s campaign, a clear indication that Rauner had a shot at garnering GOP support from the party’s center in Illinois. Gidwitz is a moderate who ran unsuccessfully for governor and later served as campaign finance chair for both Dillard and Brady.
Pat Quinn: Quinn is rolling into the new year a different governor than he was one year ago. He now can point to two major initiatives he pushed through Springfield — pension reform, which Quinn has promoted as his top issue for the past two years, and signing same-sex marriage legislation. By doing both, he managed to change the narrative that was unfolding of a do-nothing, ineffective leader.
In a surprise political move, Quinn tapped former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas as his running mate. Vallas has made many friends — and many enemies — since his days working under the Daley administration. Choosing Vallas seemed to violate the “do no harm” qualification of a lieutenant governor. But it was seen as a sign to neutralize Rauner in his push to revamp education in Illinois.
“I’ve known Paul Vallas for 30 years, and he’s never been shy about fighting for education, reform and opportunities for working people,” Quinn said when he made his announcement. “We have made great progress these last few years, but serious challenges remain, and our mission is not yet accomplished. Paul is an independent problem solver with a proven record of reform. He will be a strong lieutenant governor for the common good.”
Choosing Vallas, much like advancing pension reform, dilutes an argument that Quinn is in bed with union bosses — at least not public employee union bosses. Quinn remains a campaign beneficiary of SEIU and Illinois trade unions.
Natasha Korecki is a political reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times.
Illinois Issues, February 2014