Will Pat Quinn’s Luck Run Out Against Bruce Rauner?

The Illinois governor has escaped political death before. But a wealthy GOP businessman poses his biggest threat yet.

National Journal
Scott Bland
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Scott Bland
March 19, 2014, 1 a.m.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has been one of the na­tion’s least pop­u­lar chief ex­ec­ut­ives dur­ing his time in of­fice. Des­pite the state’s blue tinge polit­ic­ally, the Demo­crat’s polit­ic­al prob­lems have put him in ser­i­ous jeop­ardy of los­ing reelec­tion in 2014, with Re­pub­lic­ans ready and eager to lam­bast his hand­ling of the state’s budget, eco­nomy, pen­sions, and a host of oth­er is­sues.

“If Re­pub­lic­ans don’t beat him on the is­sues, then we should just pack up our bags and go to Iowa or something,” said Pat Dur­ante, who chairs the Ad­dis­on Town­ship Re­pub­lic­an Or­gan­iz­a­tion in Chica­go’s sub­urbs.

But as Hil­lary Clin­ton noted last year, Quinn has a well-earned su­per­lat­ive: He may be Amer­ica’s luck­i­est politi­cian, hav­ing already man­aged a string of polit­ic­al es­cape acts over the last few years. Des­pite his troubles, Quinn could do it again in 2014 against wealthy Re­pub­lic­an Bruce Rau­ner, at once a strong yet flawed op­pon­ent who nar­rowly won the GOP nom­in­a­tion Tues­day night.

Quinn is com­ing off two straight elec­tions won by less than a per­cent­age point. After he suc­ceeded Gov. Rod Blago­jevich, Quinn barely fought off state comp­troller Dan Hynes in the 2010 Demo­crat­ic primary be­fore go­ing on to face Re­pub­lic­an Bill Brady in the fall. Though Quinn re­mained un­pop­u­lar throughout the cam­paign, get­ting Brady as an op­pon­ent was a bless­ing. The state sen­at­or — who won the GOP nom­in­a­tion by less than 200 votes out of over 767,000 cast — was too con­ser­vat­ive for Illinois, and Quinn beat him 47 per­cent to 46 per­cent in Novem­ber, de­fy­ing many pro­gnost­ic­at­ors.

Still, Quinn’s dis­ap­prov­al rat­ings fol­lowed him in­to his first full term, and an­oth­er ser­i­ous primary chal­lenge seemed a sure thing. But both At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Lisa Madigan and former White House Chief of Staff Bill Da­ley de­cided not to run, giv­ing Quinn a free pass — and again show­cas­ing his re­cent abil­ity to bend fate in his fa­vor.

“In that sense, you could cer­tainly ar­gue that Quinn’s lucky,” said Dav­id Yepsen, the dir­ect­or of the Paul Si­mon Pub­lic Policy In­sti­tute at South­ern Illinois Uni­versity. “But he made them both think about the task ahead and what would have come up in a primary cam­paign.” (Da­ley star­ted a cam­paign but dropped out last sum­mer.)

It didn’t al­ways work this way for Quinn. He had a long-de­veloped gad­fly repu­ta­tion in Illinois polit­ics, and he won just one of five bids for statewide of­fice in the ‘80s and ‘90s, for state treas­urer in 1990. He lost Demo­crat­ic primar­ies on three dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions, in­clud­ing de­feat by less than two-tenths of a per­cent­age point in the 1998 lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor’s primary.

The next time around, in 2002, Quinn’s luck changed: He man­aged to se­cure the Demo­crat­ic lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor’s nom­in­a­tion with a 42 per­cent plur­al­ity and then joined a tick­et for vic­tory in Novem­ber. Blago­jevich mar­gin­al­ized Quinn dur­ing his time in of­fice, but the No. 2 slot turned out, to use the ex-gov­ernor’s word, to be “golden” for Quinn. When Blago­jevich was ar­res­ted, im­peached, and re­moved from of­fice for try­ing to sell Pres­id­ent-elect Obama’s Sen­ate seat in 2008, Quinn was next in line. He be­came gov­ernor in Janu­ary 2009.

To keep that post, he’ll have to go through Rau­ner, a ven­ture cap­it­al­ist who spent over $6 mil­lion of his own money (and raised an­oth­er $8 mil­lion) to cap­ture the Re­pub­lic­an gubernat­ori­al nom­in­a­tion. So­cially mod­er­ate and well-fun­ded, Rau­ner checks plenty of boxes for a suc­cess­ful blue-state Re­pub­lic­an cam­paign. He and Quinn were stat­ist­ic­ally tied in re­cent polling.

“The dif­fer­ence this time is go­ing to be re­sources, and I think Rau­ner has proven that he is will­ing to spend whatever it takes, if you look at the primary,” said John McGov­ern, a Re­pub­lic­an strategist in the state.

Yet Rau­ner also might be the one op­pon­ent who could unite di­vided Demo­crats be­hind Quinn this year. Part of Quinn’s un­pop­ular­ity stems from the severe budget cut­ting he’s had to do since tak­ing of­fice, in­clud­ing sign­ing a con­tro­ver­sial pen­sion-re­form law that an al­li­ance of labor uni­ons called “at­temp­ted pen­sion theft.” But Rau­ner, who has fo­cused some of his cam­paign, in­clud­ing his massive spend­ing on TV, against labor and “gov­ern­ment uni­on bosses,” could push the Demo­crat­ic co­ali­tion back to­geth­er.

“Labor has no reas­on to trust Quinn, but they have every reas­on to strenu­ously op­pose Rau­ner,” said Thomas Bowen, a Demo­crat­ic strategist and former polit­ic­al dir­ect­or for Chica­go May­or Rahm Emanuel. (Bowen worked for Da­ley’s brief, abor­ted primary cam­paign.)

In­deed, labor has already moved against Rau­ner, spend­ing over $6 mil­lion against him dur­ing the primary in the hope of cut­ting off his can­did­acy be­fore he got too close to the gov­ernor’s man­sion. It nearly worked, con­trib­ut­ing to Rau­ner’s sur­pris­ingly small mar­gin of vic­tory Tues­day night, and that in­tens­ity would likely carry through to the gen­er­al elec­tion.

“A race with Rau­ner would make Wis­con­sin look like a merry-go-round,” said Dur­ante, ref­er­en­cing the pro­trac­ted, ex­pens­ive battle over col­lect­ive bar­gain­ing rights sparked by GOP Gov. Scott Walk­er there. Rau­ner has cited Walk­er as an ex­ample of the type of lead­er­ship Illinois could use.

Demo­crats also hope to turn Rau­ner’s wealth, busi­ness re­cord, and own­er­ship of nine homes against him, mir­ror­ing the party’s 2012 strategy against Mitt Rom­ney, and cap­it­al­ize on his shift­ing po­s­i­tion on rais­ing the min­im­um wage. And though Rau­ner’s lack of polit­ic­al ex­per­i­ence may be a re­fresh­ing as­set at times, it can also cause him trouble, as when he re­cently cla­ri­fied to the Chica­go Sun-Times that his wealth put him in the top “.01 per­cent,” not just the top 1 per­cent.

That gives Quinn, who has a repu­ta­tion as a strong cam­paign­er, plenty to work with, and he’s get­ting star­ted right away: Cap­it­ol Fax re­por­ted Tues­day that the gov­ernor would start TV ad­vert­ising that night. The spot hits “Bil­lion­aire Bruce Rau­ner” for not sup­port­ing a state min­im­um wage in­crease and even say­ing he would move it down. Quinn’s ads star­ted be­fore the Re­pub­lic­an primary had even been called.

“He’s made his own luck but also his own prob­lems,” Bowen said, point­ing to man­age­ment is­sues dur­ing Quinn’s gov­ernor­ship. But, Bowen con­tin­ued, “He’s made a habit of clos­ing cam­paigns pretty well.”

What We're Following See More »
STAKES ARE HIGH
Debate Could Sway One-Third of Voters
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 34% of registered voters think the three presidential debates would be extremely or quite important in helping them decide whom to support for president. About 11% of voters are considered 'debate persuadables'—that is, they think the debates are important and are either third-party voters or only loosely committed to either major-party candidate."

Source:
YOU DON’T BRING ME FLOWERS ANYMORE
Gennifer Flowers May Not Appear After All
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

Will he or won't he? That's the question surrounding Donald Trump and his on-again, off-again threats to bring onetime Bill Clinton paramour Gennifer Flowers to the debate as his guest. An assistant to flowers initially said she'd be there, but Trump campaign chief Kellyanne Conway "said on ABC’s 'This Week' that the Trump campaign had not invited Flowers to the debate, but she didn’t rule out the possibility of Flowers being in the audience."

Source:
HAS BEEN OFF OF NEWSCASTS FOR A WEEK
For First Debate, Holt Called on NBC Experts for Prep
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

NBC's Lester Holt hasn't hosted the "Nightly News" since Tuesday, as he's prepped for moderating the first presidential debate tonight—and the first of his career. He's called on a host of NBC talent to help him, namely NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack; NBC News president Deborah Turness; the news division's senior vice president of editorial, Janelle Rodriguez; "Nightly News" producer Sam Singal, "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd, senior political editor Mark Murray and political editor Carrie Dann. But during the debate itself, the only person in Holt's earpiece will be longtime debate producer Marty Slutsky.

Source:
WHITE HOUSE PROMISES VETO
House Votes to Bar Cash Payments to Iran
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The House passed legislation late Thursday that would prohibit the federal government from making any cash payments to Iran, in protest of President Obama's recently discovered decision to pay Iran $1.7 billion in cash in January. And while the White House has said Obama would veto the bill, 16 Democrats joined with Republicans to pass the measure, 254-163."

Source:
NO SURPRISE
Trump Eschewing Briefing Materials in Debate Prep
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

In contrast to Hillary Clinton's meticulous debate practice sessions, Donald Trump "is largely shun­ning tra­di­tion­al de­bate pre­par­a­tions, but has been watch­ing video of…Clin­ton’s best and worst de­bate mo­ments, look­ing for her vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies.” Trump “has paid only curs­ory at­ten­tion to brief­ing ma­ter­i­als. He has re­fused to use lecterns in mock de­bate ses­sions des­pite the ur­ging of his ad­visers. He prefers spit­balling ideas with his team rather than hon­ing them in­to crisp, two-minute an­swers.”

Source:
×