October 3, 2018



There remains a modicum of suspense surrounding the Illinois governor's race. It's not whether incumbent Bruce Rauner (R) can win. He won't. Instead, the suspense is focused on how badly the governor will lose on Nov. 6.

Will he lose to J.B. Pritzker by 500,000, 750,000 or 900,000 votes? Will he surge and surpass 40 percent of the vote? Will he be the worst defeated governor in Illinois history?

The second modicum of suspense surrounds Democrat Pritzker's lavish expenditure on "party-building," an endeavor that represents an existential threat to Speaker Mike Madigan. He controls the Illinois Democratic Party, of which he is chairman, and his coterie of state representatives, which he funds as needed - and then dictates their votes.

Pritzker, who is reportedly worth $4 billion, astutely understands that his post-election agenda as governor, which is to govern, is in conflict with Madigan's perpetual agenda, which is simply to maintain the Democrats' House majority (now 67-51) and himself as speaker. Taxes will surely have to be raised in 2019 and beyond, and new revenue streams created, because Pritzker is not going to be a slash-and-cut spending and services kind of governor. And Madigan is not going to put "his" Democrats in jeopardy, particularly those in the suburbs and Downstate, by having them vote to raise taxes.

2020 is an especially important year, as the legislature elected for the 2021-22 term will be tasked with redrawing the state's legislative and congressional district boundaries. And of course, Madigan wants to stay as speaker. Madigan's modus operandi is to create dependency among his flock by having the money to get somebody elected and/or re-elected. He has three committees - Democratic Party of Illinois (DPI), Friends of Mike Madigan, and the Democratic Majority Fund. These are conduits into which funds from unions and special interests are gathered and then redirected into specific campaigns, usually to the tune of about $5-8 million per election cycle. An example was the Illinois 20th House District contest in 2016, with DPI plowing $2 million into Merry Marwig's campaign against Michael McAuliffe. Had she won, she would have been in Madigan's pocket forever.

Pritzker understands that he needs to create his own sources of dependency in which he is an alternative cash cow. He has to break the legislators' dependency on Madigan's money. So he has been pouring money into Downstate and outlying suburban county Democratic organizations, township Democratic organizations in Cook County, and into selected black-majority wards in Chicago. The sum is estimated to be about $15 million to date, and the money is being used to hire staff and workers, fund local candidates, pay for local media, and get out the vote on Nov. 6.

The end result, Pritzker hopes, will be that legislators can and will vote for Pritzker's agenda, even over Madigan's objection, knowing that they can tap into Pritzker's money sources. The subtext is that, particularly Downstate, a county chairman with a well-funded organization can save or snuff a legislator in a primary, and same holds true in county townships and city wards. Pritzker is creating an Intimidation Factor: If a legislator opposes him, he can fund a primary opponent with more money than Madigan could supply, and get the party leaders to oppose him or her.

Madigan's response, according to party sources, has been swift. Even though Democrats will easily retain control of the House and Senate (now 37-22), and probably gain a few seats, Madigan is pressuring unions to pony up $200,000 or more before November, so as to carry an $8-10 million war chest into 2019. Senate president John Cullerton is doing likewise.

Pritzker, when he becomes governor, will not be a supplicant to the legislature, as were Quinn and Rod Blagojevich.

GOVERNOR: A Sept. 5-13 poll by the Illinois Broadcasters Association had Democrat J.B. Pritzker trampling Rauner 44 to 27 percent. Other recent polls show the governor in the low 30s and Pritzker in the mi-40s.

How low can Rauner go? In modern Illinois history, dating back a century, only six elected incumbent governors have been defeated, one in a primary, and none have gotten less than 42 percent. Arthur Dunne (D) lost in 1916 with 42.1 percent; Dwight Green (R) lost in 1948 with 42.6 percent; Bill Stratton (R) lost in 1960 with 44.3 percent; Dick Ogilvie (R) lost in 1972 with 49.1 percent; Dan Walker (D) lost the 1976 Democratic primary with 43.1 percent; and Pat Quinn (D) lost in 2014 with 46.3 percent. All suffered varying degrees of unpopularity or voter fatigue, and all lost to a fresh face.

When running against Quinn in 2014, Rauner self-funded his campaign, spent over $70 million, and defined the race with his "Shake Up Springfield" mantra. Quinn was seen as capitulative to the Mike Madigan-led Democratic legislative majority, which had raised the state income tax and was grappling with huge pension and budget shortfalls. Voters wanted some checks-and-balances in Springfield, and Rauner won 1,823,627-1,681,343, a margin of 142,284 votes, getting exactly 50 percent of the vote, with the Libertarian getting three percent. Turnout was 3,626,504, which was 2,674,127 less than 2012 presidential-year turnout of 6,300,631, with Barack Obama carrying the state by 884,296 votes. In 2016 Hillary Clinton carried the state by 944,714 votes in a turnout of 5.5 million.

Rauner will lose for four reasons:

First, he has, quite incredibly, let Pritzker define him as a "failure," foisting the entire blame for Springfield gridlock on the governor, not the speaker. Lack of a budget, lack of vendor payments, lack of a pension fix - all this is Rauner's fault, Pritzker says. Nary a critical word is said about Madigan and Senate president John Cullerton, who have been in the legislature for a combined 88 years, nor the fact that Democrats have controlled the House for 34 of the past 36 years, and the Senate since 2002. Rauner's been there for 4 years.

Second, the "failure" mantra plays out in every Pritzker media commercial and Democratic speech. By sheer repetition, and because Rauner has not responded effectively and redefined himself otherwise, it is now accepted as fact. Rauner did what he promised, which was to delay the inevitable train wreck for 4 years by creating gridlock, but voters neither care nor understand that doing nothing, or causing nothing to be done, is doing something.

Third, Rauner has created no base. In his time of travail, a lot of socially conservative Republicans who are anti-abortion and pro-gun, care not whether he loses. And Rauner has not been a cheerleader for President Trump and his policies, so that HIS 38.4 percent base is not energized.

And fourth, Conservative Party nominee Sam McCann will get 5-8 percent of the November vote, and Libertarian Kash Jackson will get 1-2 percent. Those would normally be anti-Pritzker votes in a one-on-one contest; but they take votes away from Rauner, pushing him under 40 percent.

1916: Dunne (D), a former Chicago mayor, was elected with 38.1 percent in 1912 because the Republicans were split, with the Progressive getting 26.1 percent and incumbent Charles Deneen 27.4 percent. Dunne ripped Deneen for "jackpot government" and a "corrupt conspiracy." Like Woodrow Wilson in Washington, Dunne embarked on a program of utility and railroad reform, road construction, and government reorganization, which largely failed. By 1916 the Republicans had reunited, and Frank Lowden (R) beat Dunne 696,535-556,654, with Dunne getting 42.1 percent in a 7-candidate field. Dunne's 1912 election was a fluke.

1948: First elected in 1940, Green (R) was a conventional conservative who proved a competent wartime governor, but post-war dislocations, combined with a Centralia coal mine explosion, killing 111, were his doom. Green had taken donations from mine owners, who ignored warnings from coal miners of unsafe conditions. Against Adlai Stevenson (D) in 1948, Green lost by 572,067 votes, making him the worst beaten incumbent in state history to that date, getting 42.6 percent.

1960: Stratton (R) won in 1952 by 227,642 votes in the Eisenhower landslide, and created a toll-road commission to prepare for construction of interstate highways, but the Orville Hodge scandal, in which the auditor stole $1.5 million, nearly derailed Stratton's 1956 re-election, which he won by 36,877 votes. Voters by 1960 were fatigued, and Otto Kerner (D), the Chicago/Daley candidate, beat him by 524,252 votes.

1972: Illinois had no income tax prior to Ogilvie's 1968 election, relying on the sales tax for funding. Ogilvie (R) aspired to the presidency in 1976, and calculated that tackling and solving tough problems would differentiate him from the stand-pat conservative Republican field. So he strong-armed the Republican legislature into imposing an income tax in 1969, lost that majority in 1970, and then, as the anti-tax backlash continued, lost to Dan Walker (D) by just 77,494 votes. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. Nor do bad deeds. Ogilvie was expecting to win re-election and then run against Spiro Agnew in 1976. Watergate nullified that scenario.

1976: Walker was combative, obnoxious and polarizing, sort of like a precursor of Rauner. He did have a few accomplishments, like creation of the RTA, but his focus was to frustrate Mayor Richard J. Daley. The mayor got his revenge in 1976, with Secretary of State Mike Howlett burying Walker 603,178-456,051 in the primary, with the governor getting 43.1 percent.

For Rauner, it's over.