July 18, 2018


The good news for Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is that he is at the top of at least one list. The bad news is that the list is of Republican governors likely, if not certain, to be defeated in 2018, and he is the only one on it. The other eight incumbents in Arizona, Arkansas, Alabama, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Nebraska are all solid favorites to win reelection, even if a Democratic "wave" develops.

Post-primary polling in the Illinois governor's race has been dismal for Rauner. The two Victory Research polls, on June 26 to 28 and May 22 to 24, had him down to Democrat J.B. Pritzker by 45-30 and 47-32 percent, respectively. The June 9 to 11 We Ask America poll had Rauner down 36-27 percent. An average of those polls puts the governor down 43-29 percent.

Those numbers, in the political realm, are horrific. It is not unusual for an incumbent to poll at 45-49 percent - a decent base -- once he or she has an opponent, with that opponent at 40 percent or less, and 10-15 percent undecided. With adequate money the incumbent can go negative on that opponent and get more than the 50 percent hump. Every one of the other Republicans is polling in that "safety zone" or better.

Rauner, in polling parlance, is in a "bottomless hole," which means that while Pritzker is precisely where he should be at this stage of the campaign, meaning the low 40s, and needs just 5 to 8 percent more to win, Rauner is barely at about 30 percent, and needs 20 percent more to win. That requires a twofold response: Go massively negative on Pritzker (which he is doing), and change the narrative of the campaign quickly. Rauner cannot let Pritzker paint him as a "failed governor." He has to hype himself as a successful governor, explain those "successes," and keep tying Pritzker to Mike Madigan (which he is doing). With 16 weeks until the Nov. 6 election, that may be impossible. A politician's image, once established, takes years to reinvent.

Historically, a president's party suffers losses in mid-term congressional elections, but not necessarily to the same extent in governor's contests. Personal and political factors, such as the state of the state's economy, budget, spending, tax levels, and the likeability of the governor cause voters to differentiate between state and federal candidates. Recent polls put President Trump's approval rating at between 43 and 46 percent. In Illinois, it's probably fewer than 40 percent.

A Fox News poll (July 13) put Trump's approval/disapproval at 46 to 51 percent. Three Ipsos polls put it at 41 to 57 (July 11), 45 to 51 (July 5) and 43 to 54 (July 4). An Economist poll had it at 43 to 53 percent (July 11). It should be remembered that Barack Obama, through much of his second term, had approvals in the mid-40s and disapprovals in the low-50s. And, in 2014, Republicans gained 13 House seats, six Senate seats, and six governorships. In 2002, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush's approval was in the low 50s, and Republicans suffered no losses.

Rauner's problem is that he, like Trump, is a polarizing figure. But while Trump's base adores their president, Rauner has no base outside of the business and medical community. There is no political or ideological constituency that exhibits any enthusiasm for a second Rauner term. Social conservative Jeanne Ives challenged the governor in the March primary, focusing on social issues. Rauner won 361,285-341,825, a margin of 19,460 votes. The anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-gay rights crowd, which is about a third of both the Republican base and the Trump base, could care less whether Rauner is reelected. Conversely, Rauner's social liberalism wins him no votes among the Democratic base.

A greater problem is that Hillary Clinton beat Trump in Illinois in 2016 by 944,711 votes. The Trump base in Illinois is about 38 to 40 percent. Polling clearly indicates that the Trump base is not enamored with the governor, and the November candidacies of Sam McCann, a Republican state senator running on the "Conservative Party" ticket, and Libertarian Kash Jackson, will drain 100,000 votes from Rauner. There is no leftist Green Party, nor any Bernie Sanders' "progressive" on the ballot to drain votes from Pritzker.

Thus far Pritzker's campaign has done a masterful job of being warm, fuzzy and vague. He wants to "work together" with the Madigan-run state legislature. Rauner's refusal to do so constitutes "failure." He advocates a "progressive income tax," as opposed to the current flat rate, under which the wealthy - which means people like Pritzker, worth upwards of $7 billion - pay more. Given Illinois' fiscal reality, which includes an unfunded pension debt of $130 billion, a current budget deficit of $7.1 billion, and $6.6 billion currently owed to various state vendors, a tax hike is inevitable. Pritzker has disclosed no "plan" to fix the situation.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the era of Reagan, Republicans used to trumpet that they would "cut government waste" and "save taxpayer dollars." That worked for a while, until the 2000s. Now there is no such thing as "waste." Every program and budget allocation is eternal and an "essential service," and any cut impacts the "vulnerable." An estimated 40 percent of the electorate either has a government job at some level, draws a government pension or social security, gets some stipend, benefit, subsidy or disability payment, or works for or is a vendor providing some government-paid service. Their mantra is simple: DON'T CUT MY BENEFITS. FIND SOMEBODY TO PAY FOR THEM. Maintain the status quo, and I'LL VOTE FOR YOU. This is the Democratic base, and the Pritzker base, which is why he is at 40 to 45 percent.

When Pritzker states that he will "work together" with Madigan he is sending a signal to the public sector unions and all those who get a piece of the state's $38.5 billion budget that nothing will change, and it may get better (for them). Bring on the tax and fee hikes, all under the guise of "investments."

Rauner ran in 2014 with the promise to "Shake Up Springfield." He did. No more business as usual. The Janus decision means no more "fair share" union dues. He proposed term limits and a property tax freeze. He tied a minimum wage hike to business reforms. He vetoed in 2017 a $5 billion income tax hike, and also vetoed the 2016 budget. He called for reinstatement of the death penalty for mass murderers. He finally agreed to a 2019 budget in 2018 that raised the income tax, so he can't be accused of "not working together." He signed a bill that would not illegalize abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and a bill to prohibit arrests based solely on immigration status.

He has been attacking Pritzker for his ties to Rod Blagojevich, his ploy to reduce property taxes on a second mansion by yanking out the toilets, and will soon go negative on Pritzker's income tax payments.

Pritzker is spending $207,000 per day, and Rauner $83,000, according to published reports.

In the likely event that Pritzker beats Rauner, the state's Republican Party will be reduced to irrelevance. At present, Madigan's Democrats hold a 37-22 Senate and a 67-51 House majority, with the House not veto proof, and an 11-7 majority in the congressional delegation. After the 2020 census, in which the state loses a congressional seat due to population loss, Democrats can in 2021 redraw district lines any way they want, and can do so to insulate pro-tax legislators from Republican attack. They will also eliminate one Republican Downstate congressional seat while keeping all the Chicago and suburban Democratic seats. A Pritzker win will give Democrats ironclad control of Illinois through 2030.

The 2018 election will effectively determine who controls the U.S. House through 2032, much as the 2010 election insured ongoing Republican control to date. The party that wins the governorship in 2018 and that state's legislature in 2020 will draw the districts for the next decade.
OHIO: Retiring John Kasich (R) has been a popular governor, the economy is booming, and the Republicans hold 24-9 and 66-33 majorities in the legislature and 12-4 in Congress. Yet Republican Mike DeWine, the state attorney general, is slightly trailing Richard Cordray (D), a former state attorney general, in the polls. If DeWine loses, at least 3 to 5 Republican congressmen will be at risk.

MICHIGAN: Retiring Rick Snyder (R) has become tiresome, largely because of the Flint water contamination situation. The economy is strong and Republicans hold 27-11 and 63-47 legislative majorities and 9-5 in Congress. The Republican is Bill Schuette, the attorney general and a former congressman. His office is heavily involved in Flint-related litigation. The Democrat is Gretchen Whitmer, a state senator, who is slightly ahead in the polls. If voters want change, she will win.

WISCONSIN: Scott Walker (R) has done in Wisconsin what Rauner has failed to do in Illinois - namely control the budget, reduce spending, lower taxes, attract outside investment and create jobs, and rein in the Democrats. The economy is robust, and Republicans have 18-13 and 64-35 legislative majorities and 5-3 in Congress. The primary is in September, and eight Democrats are running. Walker is as polarizing as Trump. If there is an anti-Trump, anti-incumbent wave, Walker, who won with 52 percent in 2014, will go down.

In Illinois, Rauner will lose as surely as the sun sets in the West.

Send an e-mail to russ@russstewart.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.