First-time candidate Bruce Rauner eked out a surprisingly narrow victory over state Sen. Kirk Dillard for the Republican governor nomination in Tuesday's primary as Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn launched an early TV attack ad against his wealthy challenger.
Rauner, a Winnetka venture capitalist, collected 40 percent to 38 percent for Dillard with 97 percent of precincts counted. State Sen. Bill Brady had 15 percent, and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford had 7.5 percent of the unofficial vote.
On the Democratic side, Quinn recived a commanding 72 percent with 97 percent of precincts counted. Challenger Tio Hardiman, the former leader of the anti-violence group CeaseFire, had 28 percent. A vote for the low-profile Hardiman amounted to a protest vote amid concerns from some Democrats about Quinn's leadership.
Rauner and Quinn quickly pivoted to the general election campaign in their victory speeches late Tuesday.
Rauner accused Quinn of practicing “the politics of division” as he labeled the governor “a failure.” Rauner said voters face a stark choice Nov. 4 between the “old status quo” versus “a new direction.”
Quinn called working-class people “the real everyday heroes of our state” and then ripped Rauner, contending the challenger's wealth left him out of touch.
“I believe in everyday people. I think a governor has to have a heart. I may not have nine mansions. I have one house,” Quinn said. “I'm not a billionaire. Never will be. I'm not part of the 1 percent and never will be there. I'm not even part of the 0.1 percent. But I'll tell you this. As long as I'm governor I'm going to fight hard for the 99.9 percent.”
Even before the Republican race was decided, Quinn tried to jump-start the general election. Believing Rauner to be his opponent, Quinn aired TV commercials during newscasts attacking the Republican over the issue of raising the minimum wage.
Quinn has backed raising the state's $8.25-an-hour minimum wage to at least $10 an hour. The issue has been a troublesome one for Rauner, who initially advocated “moving back” the state's minimum wage to the current federal rate of $7.25 an hour.
“When you see Billionaire Bruce Rauner on TV, ask yourself who is the real Bruce Rauner?” read the graphics in the ad. Rauner has said he is wealthy, but not a billionaire.
Still, the initial ad tactic acknowledged the prime Democratic strategy for keeping the executive mansion by using the minimum wage issue to amplify Rauner's wealth.
The primaries were notable for low turnout despite high stakes in the GOP contest for governor. Quinn was the only statewide Democratic candidate to have a primary challenge.
In the Republican contest, Dillard sought to take advantage of a multimillion-dollar push by public employee unions that backed him late in the campaign. Dillard had voted against the new state law that scaled back cost-of-living increases and raised retirement ages for many public workers.
“We came real close,” Dillard said. “One message for the Illinois Republican Party: You ought to follow our broad-based coalition if you ever really want to become the majority party in Illinois again.”
Dillard lost to Rauner in the senator's home turf of DuPage County. But Dillard got support from Downstate Republicans, primarily those who are union members employed by the state. Dillard led heavily in Sangamon County, where the state capital and many state workers are located, though turnout there was still low.
Rauner has promoted a decidedly anti-government union theme alleging the state workforce has been featherbedded and overpaid. He's also called for an end to tenure for public school teachers and making even stricter changes for public pensions beyond a new law Quinn signed late last year.
Rutherford, the first-term state treasurer, was the first to offer what amounted to a concession speech. His candidacy buffeted by a federal lawsuit, Rutherford said he looked forward to “vindication” and said he was “not going away” from politics. Edmund Michalowski, a former treasurer employee, filed the suit last month alleging he had been sexually harassed and forced to do political work on state time.
“I'm going to be back,” Rutherford said at his Pontiac election night reception. He called the last six weeks of his campaign “horrible” for his family, staff and friends. Rutherford planned no further public remarks and closed his reception to the media.
Rauner held front-runner status in previous polling, reflecting a strategy to use his significant financial advantage to blanket TV airwaves for months with commercials that defined the candidate as an outsider and successful businessman unencumbered by the state's traditional political rules.
At the same time, Rauner offered a largely disciplined message as he tossed out such red-meat terms as fighting “corruption” and “bribery” and a vow to combat “government union bosses,” though he offered few specifics on how he actually would “shake up Springfield,” where Democrats are expected to keep control of the legislature.
The Quinn-Rauner matchup is expected to be an expensive and particularly contentious contest. Quinn's campaign style can be particularly biting. Rauner has shown no hesitation to go after the Democratic governor. Rauner largely bypassed criticizing his Republican rivals during the primary campaign and aired ads attacking Quinn.
The state's largest public unions are a wildcard for the fall. Opposed to Rauner and unhappy with Quinn, will they sit out the general election campaign or find some way to try to make peace with the Democratic chief executive?
Rauner gave his campaign $6 million out of his own pocket — a record for self-funding in an Illinois governor's race. He raised another $8.75 million from well-heeled Republicans. The combination of his money and that from wealthy donors prevented his rivals from mounting a full-throated campaign.
Only a $4 million push by public union-backed political action committees largely against Rauner and another nearly $1 million in late union contributions to Dillard helped him narrow the gap.
Brady, the 2010 nominee who lost narrowly to Quinn, had planned on building and growing a base off his previous candidacy. But he, too, was hamstrung by an inability to raise money and his base — concentrated Downstate — never grew substantially from the 20 percent he got in the GOP primary four years ago.
Brady conceded defeat at an election party in his home city of Bloomington.
“This didn't end up, in case you didn't know, the way we hoped,” Brady said in conceding. “We're not going to give up on what we believe in, and we're not going to give up on the people of Illinois, regardless of the outcome tonight.”
Tribune reporters Jeff Coen, David Heinzmann, John Chase, Bill Ruthhart and Annie Sweeney contributed.
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