Content in the extent of his wealth and the power of his incumbency, Gov. Bruce Rauner this winter has effectively ignored his primary election foe, conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton. Instead, he’s been acting like Republicans already have re-crowned him as their champion, concentrating all his fire and energy on Democratic front-runner J.B. Pritzker
The events of the past 24 hours show the limits of that strategy.
First, in the only debate they’re likely to have, before the Chicago Tribune editorial board, Ives gobbled him right up, seemingly scoring points at will. The Tribune’s coverage echoed that, and its editorial today broadly hinted that an Ives endorsement may well be on the way.
Then, news emerged that Ives finally has found the moneybags she’s needed, as ex-Rauner backer Dick Uihlein sent her a check for $500,000 that may be the first of a series.
Those twin developments have changed things. If nothing else, Ives’ name recognition probably has doubled. Rauner remains the favorite. But he could well just stagger across the finish line in March. And given the volatility of the electorate in the age of Donald Trump, an Ives win is not out of reach.
You want to avoid that fate, governor? Then quit whining about Mike Madigan and start acting like you would against any Democratic foe: Attack. Engage. Contrast your views and record with hers.
There’s plenty of material to use, if Rauner chooses to do so.
For instance, Ives told Crain’s editorial board last week she’d balance the state budget in large part by shifting the tax load to the people of Chicago and suburban Cook County. She’d do so by slashing aid to Chicago Public Schools under the state’s new formula, and by working to end the Obamacare expansion, which shifted to the federal government and, to a lesser degree, the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year in costs for caring for indigent patients at Cook County’s network of hospitals and clinics. Yes, that might mean a local tax hike, she conceded.
Are you listening, Governor? Your opponent seems to favor a tax hike in Cook County, which, despite its reputation of being a Democratic stronghold, cast more than a third of the vote statewide in the 2014 GOP primary—a cool 428,345.
When pressed if dropping Obamacare might also result in a reduction of health care to people without the funds to pay for it, Ives notes they run a nice voluntary dental clinic in DuPage County. Now, there’s a campaign plank that will sell with moderate voters, not only in Cook County but also in the five suburban collar counties, which provided another quarter of the statewide vote in the 2014 Republican primary. It has a real ring, doesn’t it? “Let ’em go to the free clinic.” Of course, most voters don’t know that Ives said that, because Rauner hasn’t told them.
Over at the Tribune, Ives had another budget solution. If employee groups won’t cave with financial concessions, “lay them off,” she said. Right! Start with the state troopers and prison guards, and work your way down to university professors and doctors in the health department. The latter can use their free time to volunteer at the community clinic!
Of course, Ives could spark another crisis like the one that left Illinois without a budget for two years. That certainly was a big success.
Ives, at the Trib, also bragged about being one of a handful of lawmakers to vote against extending the state’s Edge payroll incentive program to woo jobs. I understand her zeal that lower taxes for everybody is the libertarian gold standard. But in a country in which almost every state offers something like Edge, unilateral disarmament would leave Illinois even worse off.
Guv, you might consider communicating Ives’ stance on Edge to people who work for Amazon in Will County, Sears in Hoffman Estates and Ford at the Torrence Avenue plant, all of which received Edge. And you might cc: everyone who hopes to land a job at Amazon’s possible HQ2 here.
There’s other material out there, material that could be effective not only in a general election against a Democrat, but in a primary against Ives.
Sure, doing so would provoke some conservative voters who might not come home in November. But I suspect most of them already are mad over Rauner’s actions on abortion and so-called sanctuary cities. The question this fall: Would they rather have a liberal—or very liberal—Democrat in office?
“I think Rauner’s folks are making a mistake. They need to take her straight on,” says one top party insider, who asks not to be named. In this predominantly blue state, that insider adds, the message ought to be: “A vote for Jeanne Ives is a vote for (Illinois House Speaker) Mike Madigan to draw the new legislative map that will be in place until 2031.”
That source is right. You want to keep your job, Governor? It’s time to start acting like you mean it.