By Jamey Dunn
With two candidates clearly in the lead for their perspective party’s gubernatorial nominations, statehouse watchers are not expecting many surprises from tomorrow’s primary election.
Since the early days of the Republican primary race, the question has been which candidate might become the viable alternative to wealthy businessman Bruce Rauner, who has consistently led in the polls? After gaining the support of public employee unions, it seems that Hinsdale Sen. Kirk Dillard has won that role, but it also seems that it won’t be enough for him to defeat Rauner.
A We Ask America poll of more than 1,000 likely Republican voters conducted on Sunday night found Rauner, who is from Winnetka, in the lead with 44 percent of the vote to Dillard’s 27 percent. Bloomington Sen. Bill Brady had 19 percent and Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who is from Chenoa, had just 9 percent. (Percentages do no add up to 100 percent because of rounding.) The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 3 percent.
“I would be surprised [if Rauner is not the nominee]. I mean, I really would,” said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield. “His appeal has been broad. He’s not a regional candidate. He’s getting downstate support.”
It seems nearly impossible that Chicago Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn would be defeated by his primary challenger Tio Hardiman, who has been unable to raise any substantial funds. With the pressure off in that primary, unions may work to get members who usually cast a Democratic ballot in the primary to cross over and vote for Dillard as an alternative to the “union boss” bashing Rauner. Still, it looks unlikely that they could corral enough cross-over votes. According to the We Ask American analysis, based on a turn out of 800,000 voters in the Republican primary, Dillard would need 135,040 cross-over votes to win. “To get union people who are Democrats to cross over, I think, is just really hard. We don’t have much of a history of cross over,'' in the state, Redfield said. To put it another way, the We Ask America analysis says: “There may be enough cross over to move numbers tomorrow. But a few won’t be enough. Dillard needs a stampede.” Redfield, who tracks campaign contributions and spending for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform’s Sunshine Project, said that according to his rough estimates, Dillard will likely have had about $2 million or $3 million total to spend on the campaign. That compares to Rauner’s war chest, which he says could be as large as $17 million.
At one point it seemed like Rutherford might emerge as the dark-horse contender, but accusations of sexual harassment and pressure to do political work from an employee dealt a mortal blow to his campaign, which has continued limping along it what seems to have become purely a symbolic effort at this point. Rutherford is not making a final tour of the state today and he has barred reporters from his election night party for supporters. “I don’t know where the Rutherford voters go. If you’re looking for a fresh face, and think that Brady and Dillard were old news ,and therefore you were attracted to Rutherford as the new person that had the energy, that was doing fundraising and stuff, then I don’t know that you automatically go back to Dillard or Brady. Some of its going to Rauner. I think that’s pretty clear,” Redfield says.
After the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary came down to just a few hundred votes, those who closely watch Illinois elections are unwilling to call anything a totally certain bet. When multiple candidates are competing for a small pool of primary voters, relatively small changes in voter opinion can have big consequences. Still, there is a feeling among analysts and observers that Rauner has it sewn up. “Low-turnout low-interest primary, four candidates—yeah weird things can happen but it’s just it’s hard to see the dynamic about how anything’s going to change. Those tracking polls have been pretty consistent.” For more on the governor’s race, see Illinois Issues February 2014.
More than half of the 137 state legislative races are uncontested. About 30 candidates do not face a primary challenger but will face a general election opponent. Of the contested primaries, a few boil down to some key votes made by incumbents and outside groups having the money to challenge them. Freshman Rep. Christian Mitchell, a Chicago Democrat, is facing a tough race against opponent community organizer Jay Travis. Mitchell voted in favor of recently passed changes to public employee pension benefits. Now he has been hit with push back from public employee unions. Travis is reaping the benefits—in the form of campaign funding—from that fallout. Meanwhile education reform groups, such as Stand for Illinois Children, are putting cash into Mitchell’s campaign. So far, Mitchell has been leading in the polls.
Redfield said it is important to House Speaker Michael Madigan that incumbents like Mitchell, who took a tough vote, not get knocked out by a primary challenger.“[If] those people were to go down then that will send a message that the speaker can’t always protect you. And the speaker’s not in favor of that message being out there.”
On the Republican side of the aisle, some incumbents are facing races against decidedly more conservative primary candidates. Downers Grove Republican Ron Sandack, one of only three House Republicans to vote in favor of same sex marriage, is facing Keith Matune in the primary. Matune’s bid is being financially backed in part by independent expenditures from a political action committee run by former Republican gubernatorial hopeful Dan Proft. Mundelein Republican Rep. Ed Sullivan, who also voted in favor of same sex marriage, is facing a challenge from Bob Bednar.
Wealthy conservative Republican
Sen. Jim Oberweis, who is from Sugar Grove, has been leading Doug Truax in the Republican primary race to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin. This is Oberweis’ third try at running for the office. If he wins tomorrow, it will be the first time he has survived the primary in a U.S. Senate race. “You have this war about what’s the real Republican Party—the big ideological conflicts,” Redfield says. He says that social conservatives may be disappointed if Rauner is one of the candidates leading their ticket because he does not seem willing to fight culture war battles. Instead it seems likely he will focus on education reform and making the state more business friendly. “I can’t imagine Rauner’s going to be willing to spend political capital on social issues that he can’t win when he really wants to do these (other) things as far education, as far as tax code, those sorts of things.”
For more on what state legislative primary races to watch tomorrow, see Illinois Issues February 2014.