In this Friday Forum, we begin a series of interviews about important Illinois Primary Election races. WNIJ’s Dan Klefstad talked with Northern Illinois University Prof. Scot Schraufnagel, chairman of the Political Science Department, about various statewide and Congressional races. This week, we start with the top of the ballot: the race for Illinois governor.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has a primary challenger, State Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton. She’s a staunch conservative who’s attacking Rauner over his signature on a law that allows state funding for some abortions.
Ives, an Army veteran, also is criticizing Rauner over his handling of an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in which 13 patients died over two years at the state-run Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy.
Schraufnagel says the fact that Ives has not held statewide office will “compromise her chances,” but notes that the West Point graduate’s staunch conservativism is a challenge to Rauner’s political leanings.
“She’s right, in some respects, in labelling Rauner as more liberal than she is and more progressive in some respects,” Schraufnagel said, “but a lot of people don’t realize that Rauner was an adviser to Rahm Emanuel. So Rauner’s politics, although he’s been very steadfast in trying to promote certain pet policies, his politics by and large are a bit more liberal than the average Republican.”
Ives also has a consistent message that is targeted at core Republican voters who are upset over the state law Rauner signed allowing state funds to pay for abortions under certain circumstances and the income-tax increase approved despite Rauner’s veto.
Schraufnagel says the traditionally lower turnout for primary elections means that voters who show up will be the ones who take the stronger positions on some of these issues, which gives Ives an advantage.
“The turnout of the Republican base will benefit her,” he said. “However, there’s this psychological thing that goes on where people voting in a primary are looking forward to the general election, and they’re trying to think about who’s going to win the general election – and I think that’s going to work against her. The fact that Rauner’s the incumbent will lead many Republican primary voters to choose Rauner as the safer bet to win in November.”
The two have opposite needs in terms of turnout, Schraufnagel explains. Rauner wants higher voter turnout to bring in more moderate Republicans who are more inclined to vote strategically. Ives, he says, should hope for a bad weather day that results in low voter turnout where just the most hard-core Republicans show up.
Rauner and Ives have appeared together only once -- before the Chicago Tribune editorial board. The newspaper has been a strong supporter of the incumbent and his polices but stated that Ives "makes a persuasive case as an alternative to Rauner."
The Democratic race has six candidates – billionaire JB Pritzker, former University of Illinois trustee Chris Kennedy, State Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston, former gubernatorial hopeful Tio Hardiman, Madison County Regional School Supt. Bob Daiber, and retired physician and perennial candidate Robert Marshall -- and appears to be shaping up as one between spending power and core Democratic values.
JB Pritzker has enough money to finance his campaign on his own, Schraufnagel notes.
“Pritzker has spent, through December 2017, $42 million of his own money,” he said. “That should seem like a lot of money. However, when you consider his net worth of about $3.4 billion, it’s only about 1.2 percent of all the money he has.”
Schraufnagel says that Pritzker’s campaign uses some of the tactics that Rauner employed by launching a major advertising campaign early in the election cycle to establish himself as a frontrunner. Pritzker also got the endorsement of the two sitting senators in the state, among others.
“The remaining candidates are probably going to split the anti-Pritzker vote and Pritzker probably walks away with it, is what I’m going to guess,” Schraufnagel said.
Pritzker’s political connections also should prove beneficial, Schraufnagel says, including his choice of Juliana Stratton as running mate. “She was backed by President Obama when she ran in a Democratic primary in 2016 and unseated the incumbent there. She’s African-American; she should be able to galvanize a lot of black support throughout the state,” Schraufnagel said. “Pritzker also has another connection to the Obama Administration in that his sister Penny was the Secretary of Commerce. That kind of connection can’t hurt him.”
Here are Schraufnagel’s thoughts on the other candidates:
Daniel Biss -- “[He] is a professor of mathematics – Ph.D. by the age of 25 – very, very competent, intelligent."
Chris Kennedy – “Bobby Kennedy’s son, nephew of John F. Kennedy. He’s worked hard to bring a lot of technology jobs to Chicago, he’s been on the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, and he now runs the family trust, so he’s very well connected; but he’s not spending nearly the kind of money that Pritzker has."
Tio Hardiman – “[He] has statewide name recognition – that’s an important quality. He was Quinn’s primary challenger in 2014.”
Bob Daiber – “[He] has got 20 years of experience in education, a school superintendent.”
Robert Marshall – “A 75-year-old physician. He actually ran in four different GOP primaries, including the governor’s primary in 1990, so he’s a real outside shot at the Democratic nomination.”
Schraufnagel says that a primary win for Pritzker would send a clear message for other candidates. “The lesson to be learned by a successful Pritzker nomination would be to be well funded, to start early, to maintain good connections in elite circles,” he said, “and that seems to be what works if he wins.”
The Illinois primary will be held March 20. Early voting begins Feb. 8.