Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner rode into the governor’s mansion four years ago on his Harley-Davidson after having spent what was then a record $65 million to win his first elected office.
Nearly half of that, more than $27 million, came out of his own wallet.
Democrats criticized Rauner for trying to buy the state GOP. At the 2014 Illinois State Fair, a mascot they called “Baron Von Moneybags” was dressed up as the monocled Monopoly icon to mock Rauner.
But this year, Rauner is facing off against someone with even deeper pockets: Democratic nominee for governor J.B. Pritzker, heir to the Hyatt fortune.
At a Tuesday meeting of the Illinois Republican County Chairmen’s Association in Springfield, Rauner tried to flip that script back on Democrats, by distinguishing the source of his wealth from that of Pritzker.
“We’ll never outspend these corrupt guys. Pritzker inherited millions. Billions. I didn’t inherit anything. He inherited billions, and he’s using his money that he inherited to buy political office,” Rauner said.
When asked later at a Governor’s Day Illinois State Fair rally whether it was hypocritical of him to accuse another politician of buying office, Rauner launched into a tirade against Pritzker, attempting to tie him to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and referencing the FBI’s secret recordings of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s phone calls with Pritkzer, in which Pritkzer can be heard gunning for a political appointment.
The governor says Pritkzer tried (and failed) to buy office then, and he’s trying to do it again now.
According to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, thus far in the 2018 race, Rauner has raised nearly $78 million (mostly out-of-pocket and from Illinois’ richest man, Citadel’s Ken Griffin). Pritzker has almost $108 million – almost exclusively his own funds.
“You can only put so much lipstick on a barrow,” Rauner said, in asking Republicans to chip in. “And you know what – once you spend that much for saturation, the rest of it is wasted. We just got to make sure we have enough to get out message out.”
He riffed the expression “lipstick on a pig” by substituting “pig” for “barrow,” a castrated male hog.
While the governor’s race is set to smash spending records, the GOP is also focusing on trying to win more seats in the Illinois House.
They need to gain nine in order to unseat Madigan, who was booed by the Republican crowd every time his name was mentioned at the rally.
Harold accused Democratic state Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago, also a lawyer, of dodging debates.
“Senator Raul is trying to limit debates with me because he knows he has no good defense for his record,” Harold said. “This will be a tough fight. But as Senator Raul will find out: I may be Miss America, but I’m not Miss Congeniality.”
Rauner is banking his candidacy, and Harold’s, on voters’ disgust with Madigan, and on the message that Pritkzer, who supports a graduated income tax, will tax Illinois “into oblivion.”
In order for Republicans to have any chance at holding onto or gaining statewide office, particularly given President Donald Trump’s potential to drag down GOP candidates in voter-rich suburban districts where polls show Trump isn’t popular, Rauner will need strong turnout from all Republicans.
Some factions of the party are still angry with him, mostly over his having signed a law that covers abortions under Medicaid.
GOP leaders tried to downplay that rift Wednesday.
“Are we ready to stick together? Are we ready to be unified? All right. All this press out there thinks we’re not unified. Let’s let them know we’re all together. Right now. Let’s scream it out,” GOP State Party Chairman Tim Schneider said, revving up the crowd.
(Schneider is also a Cook County Commissioner, who is facing a challenge to hold onto his county board spot.)
There was no sign of Rauner’s primary opponent, outspoken conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton in that crowd, however, and there’s no indication the two have mended fences.
Democrats will have their day at the fair Thursday.
They had hoped to start with a morning breakfast headlined by former Vice President Joe Biden, but late Tuesday, Biden bowed out with an undisclosed illness, per “doctor’s orders.”
South Bend, Indiana’s “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg – who has gained national media attention as an up-and-comer – will take his place.
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