Bruce Rauner has emerged as the heavy favorite to win this month's Republican gubernatorial primary, and polling shows him running evenly with Gov. Pat Quinn (D) in a solidly Democratic state. It's setting up for one of the cycle's most intriguing gubernatorial contests in President Obama's old backyard.
-- Rauner is a first time candidate, but his success at winning over top donors and conservatives alike prove he's capable of running a sophisticated campaign. His rhetoric against "government union bosses" in Springfield has spurred comparisons to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, prompting labor to mobilize on Quinn's behalf. Illinois will be one of many Midwestern gubernatorial battlegrounds where the clout of unions will be tested.
-- Quinn lost 98 of the state's 102 counties in 2010 but his victory margins were significant enough in Cook County to offset deep losses everywhere else. Rauner's task is to chip away at Quinn's firewall of support by winning just enough Democrats and independents here to win statewide. The X-factor: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He's close friends with Rauner and has a frosty relationship with Quinn.
-- Former Emanuel adviser Tom Bowen predicted the race will be a "barnburner" with Rauner's money allowing him to make inroads around Chicago, where Republicans have struggled recently. Rauner's socially-moderate, fiscally-conservative positioning should play well in the suburbs, but Democrats will work to portray him as the second coming of Mitt Romney.
A Quinn loss would be the second home-state setback for the White House, after Democrats lost the president's Senate seat to Mark Kirk in the 2010 midterms. Already facing a tough midterm landscape, Obama could see his home-state governorship fall to Republicans -- to a friend of his former chief of staff, no less.