Although Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is one of the nation’s most unpopular governors, experts say that he is the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination on March 14 of next year, a prospect that has Republicans in the state fired up for the general election in November.
While only a quarter of Illinois residents approve of the governor’s performance, the lack of a serious challenger in March’s Democratic primary has cleared a path for Governor Quinn to easily capture the nomination.
In politics, it is sometimes said that it is better to be lucky than to be good, and Governor Quinn has certainly benefited from a string of lucky breaks. First was the announcement in July from Lisa Madigan, the highly popular Illinois attorney general and daughter of the powerful longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, that she would not be challenging Quinn for the nomination. Then, in August, Kwame Raoul, the popular African American politician who replaced Barack Obama in the Illinois State Senate, announced that he would not be running either.
Perhaps the most unexpected turn in the race was the decision by Bill Daley, former White House Chief of Staff and son of the late mayor Richard J. Daley, to abruptly drop out of the race just four months after entering and seven months from the primary. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Daley explained that he was dropping out not because he was afraid of losing the race, but because he was not prepared for the emotional and physical demands of the office: “To be honest with you, losing [the race] wasn't the worst of my fears. In many ways, winning it and having the commitment of five years to nine years was something I struggled with.”
However, the problems with Daley’s campaign ran much deeper than the candidate was willing to admit. Two weeks before the end of the third quarter Daley had only raised $379,619, less than half of the $796,471 that he had raised in the previous quarter.
Lisa Madigan’s biggest donors, primarily large union groups, chose not to open their checkbooks for Daley after Madigan dropped out of the race, signaling that the Illinois Democratic Party would not coalesce around Daley even with Madigan out of the running.
The Daley campaign also underestimated the Democratic establishment’s support for Governor Quinn. In recent weeks, the Governor has secured endorsements from both the Cook County Democratic Party and the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association.
Daley’s low fundraising numbers combined with an overall weak support from traditional Democratic constituent groups paint a very different picture of why Daley exited the race early.
The former White House Chief-of-Staff did not bow out of the race without first delivering a parting shot at his former opponent, though. In the same interview with the Tribune, Daley offered a blunt assessment of the governor’s chances in the general election, saying: “There's no doubt in my mind that Pat Quinn will not be the next governor of Illinois.”
Public opinion polling supports that assessment. Two separate polls predict Quinn losing in a hypothetical match-up against even non-front-runner Republican nominee Kirk Dillard, who represents the DuPage and Will counties in the Illinois State Senate.
Republicans have jumped at the chance to take control of the governor’s mansion. A number of prominent Republicans have entered the race, including Illinois State Senator Bill Brady whom Quinn narrowly beat in 2010. That race was one of the closest gubernatorial races in American history, with Quinn just barely edging out Brady by 19,400 votes out of 3 million cast.
However, the most likely Republican nominee is venture capitalist investor Bruce Rauner, who has served as an adviser to Rahm Emanuel and chairman of the Board of Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism bureau. Rauner has raised nearly $3.3 million since entering the race, roughly double the total amount raised by his three largest rivals.
A few weeks ago, Rauner announced that he had picked Wheaton city council member Evelyn Sanguinetti as his running mate. Sanguinetti hits a number of high spots for Republicans: She is Hispanic, hails from the conservative suburbs of DuPage County, and is an outsider to the sometimes-messy politics in Springfield.
Rauner’s ties to the mayor, pro-choice leanings, and silence on the issue of gay marriage won’t endear him to the state’s conservative activists, but his moderate stance on social issues and his anti-establishment message will make him an appealing general election candidate if he triumphs in the Republican primary.
If Rauner wins the general election, he will be the first Republican to take control of the governor’s mansion in over a decade. In the event he secures the general election, Rauner will surely go head-to head with Senate Democrats on the issue of pension reform. Rauner has campaigned on a strong anti-union message, arguing that the state’s ills—from the bloated pension system to the failing public school system—can be directly attributed to the political power of unions in the state. Rauner affirmed these sentiments in an interview this week, saying on the “Walsh Freedom Radio Townhall” that “the disaster is [that] Chicago is essentially bankrupt. What's gone on for years is the Chicago machine is built on the backs of government unions.”
Once the dust settles in November, the winning candidate will face considerable challenges. Illinois has an unfunded pension liability of nearly $100 billion—the worst in the nation, according to official government numbers.
Any serious solution to the problem will require either raising the retirement age, cutting benefits, or increasing contributions from state employees—all changes that will surely prove unpopular. For the candidate who emerges victorious in November, the race to win the Illinois gubernatorial race will only be the first of many contentious battles.
The image featured in this article was taken by Chris Eaves. The original image can be found here.