Governor Bruce Rauner has put an end to one of Illinois’ lingering political questions: Will he or won’t he?
After months of indecision, the first-term Republican governor on Monday said he is all in for his re-election next year.
Dressed in a leather jacket and perched atop his Harley Davidson motorcycle, Rauner made his announcement in a YouTube campaign ad titled “I Choose to Fight.”
Whether intended or not, the clip’s moniker appropriately sums up the 34-month Rauner tenure, a time of self-inflicted financial wounds in state government. His time as governor has included an unprecedented two-year budget impasse and a growing multibillion-dollar mountain of unpaid bills.
Here are some takeaways from the governor’s re-election launch.
What the video shows — and what it doesn’t show
The video itself offers no real surprises.
Rauner again beats up on his nemesis, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, and promises property-tax relief and term limits. Those were two big gubernatorial ambitions from 2014 that went nowhere.
An emphasis on school-funding surfaced in the video, making clear that Rauner plans to make his backing of a landmark redistribution of education dollars a cornerstone of his campaign. But his scripted video rollout also shows an aversion to risk. Rauner didn’t embark on a statewide bus tour or fly-around to trumpet his re-election bid. How conservatives might react to him at public political events is an unknown; their anger at Rauner has been unrelenting since his surprise enactment of public funding for abortions and opposition to tougher immigration standards.
Opponents seized on how Rauner’s video makes no mention of two years without a budget or $16.3 billion in unpaid bills on his watch.
The Democratic Governors Association called Rauner the “most vulnerable incumbent” in America, and J.B. Pritzker’s Democratic gubernatorial campaign went even further. It called Rauner a “motorcycle-riding failed governor” and “sham savior nobody asked for.”
But critics also emerged from within Rauner’s own party. The former Republican Congressman and Tea Party firebrand, Joe Walsh, tweeted out that Rauner shouldn’t be running again. “Smh,” Walsh tweeted, using a common abbreviation for “Shaking my head.” “That Harley Davidson act won’t work this time.”
Primary challenge for Rauner?
Walsh has taken himself out of a primary against Rauner but is considering an independent run.
All eyes are now on State Rep. Jeanne Ives, a three-term House member from west suburban Wheaton. She’s been the most visible voice of conservative anger over Rauner’s abandonment of a past pledge to veto legislation that allows public funding for abortions.
Ives told WBEZ Monday she intends to announce an exploratory committee for governor this week and has gotten commitments of support from past Rauner donors.
She also ridiculed Rauner’s campaign video: “To me, it didn’t matter what he said in that video. You can’t trust his word. Venture capitalist Rauner would have fired Rauner by now for failure to perform and for lying.”
How hard is it to unseat a sitting Illinois governor in a primary?
It’s beyond hard. And in recent political history, it’s been outright impossible.
Going back to 1990, incumbent Illinois governors have been challenged four times in primaries. Each time, the challengers got clobbered. Protest votes against Republican Gov. Jim Edgar and Democratic Govs. Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn trended between 25 percent and 33 percent. Rauner is clearly vulnerable with one poll in March measuring his public approval numbers in the mid-30s.
But Rauner has money in the bank: $65.5 million to be exact. Last week, by contrast, Ives reported only $8,500 in her political fund.