The Republican front-runner ahead of the March 18 primary, venture
capitalist Bruce Rauner, has emerged as a deep-pocketed and
potentially formidable rival. The Republican National Committee
already has staff on the ground in Illinois and plans to add more
Quinn eked out a victory four years ago by less than 1 percentage
point and his job approval rating has hovered around 34 percent as
voters complain about the state's anemic job growth and hobbled
In recent months, Quinn's fortunes have improved thanks to passage
of a pension reform bill and after former White House Chief of Staff
Bill Daley, brother of the longtime Chicago mayor, abandoned a
short-lived primary challenge. But political insiders still view
Quinn as vulnerable.
"Quinn is in deep trouble and the closer we get to November, the
more vulnerable he looks," said RNC spokesman Ryan Mahoney.
Public Policy Polling has called Quinn's re-election chances a
"toss-up," while the Cook Political Report favors Quinn based on
Democrats' heavy registration advantage in the state, much of that
in the state's largest city, Chicago.
"The governor benefits from being in a state that is definitely
Democratic-leaning," said Kent Redfield, a professor at the
University of Illinois at Springfield. "I think the governor is
perceived as being honest and sincere, but not a strong, forceful
Quinn took office in 2009, stepping up from the lieutenant
governor's chair after the impeachment of then-Governor Rod
Blagojevich, who was removed from office and is serving a 14-year
sentence for political corruption.
The following year, Quinn narrowly defeated Republican State Senator
Bill Brady, a social conservative, winning by fewer than 32,000 out
of 3.4 million votes cast.
In his first full term, Quinn pushed through a pension reform
measure and an income tax hike and signed laws legalizing same-sex
marriage and medical marijuana.
But voters faulted him for struggling to reach deals even with
lawmakers from his own party. The ultimately successful battle to
pass major pension reform late in 2013 took place among legislative
leaders, with no major public role for Quinn.
But such are the politics in Illinois that the Democrat's
unpopularity does not necessarily translate to unelectability.
A POPULIST CAMPAIGN
Rauner has momentum on his side, political watchers say.
He has set a state record for primary spending, pouring $6 million
of his own money into the race while raising millions from donors.
Ads depicting him as a straight-talking anti-politician have
dominated the state's TV airwaves, while his rivals lack the funds
for a major broadcast ad campaign.
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On the campaign trail and in candidate forums, Rauner avoids talking
about social issues and offers a populist platform of more jobs,
lower taxes, better schools and term limits. Passage of pension
reform took away one of his major rallying cries — the inability of
Quinn to deal with the state's pension crisis.
The state's airwaves are hardly an all-Rauner affair. A group of
public employees' unions has contributed heavily to Illinois Freedom
PAC, which has funded anti-Rauner television ads.
A February Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll had Rauner leading his
Republican rivals with 40 percent support, more than his two main
"Rauner's hired good people. He's been incredibly disciplined. He's
been on the air constantly," said Redfield.
He has also made rookie mistakes.
After voicing support for lowering the Illinois minimum wage, Rauner
faced heavy criticism and changed his position.
His rivals for the Republican nomination include Brady, who hopes
for a re-match against Quinn and State Senator Kirk Dillard, a
suburban moderate who served as chief of staff for the popular
former Republican Governor Jim Edgar.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford is also running, but his candidacy
has been badly hobbled by allegations of sexual harassment leveled
against him by a former male staffer.
The other candidates accuse Rauner, who reported a 2012 income of
$53 million on his tax forms, of trying to buy the nomination. In a
forum this week, Rauner said the limit to his spending is "winning
Still, political analysts say Quinn has the edge. And, for all his
own spending, Rauner's opponents are likely to invest heavily in his
"Rauner will have tons of money, as we've seen, but I think there
will be a lot of money coming in to help Quinn, particularly from
national unions," said political consultant Don Rose.
(Reporting by Edith Honan; editing by David Greising and Cynthia
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