Don’t look now, but Election Day 2018 is a year away – and an unprecedented amount of money is already being dumped into the race for governor. The irony of such a thing in a cash-poor state is not lost on us.
As reported in today’s Pantagraph, the contest is anticipated to be one of the most costly statewide elections in American history. So far more than $100 million has been thrown in, the vast majority from the marquee big-money candidates GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner ($71 million) and Democrat J.B. Pritzker ($28 million).
The crowded spring primary field on the Democratic side includes Chris Kennedy, son of Sen. Robert Kennedy, and state Sen. Daniel Biss, of Evanston. Rauner recently found an opponent in state Rep. Jeanne Ives, of Wheaton.
None of them are even close to the funding levels of Rauner and Pritzker, who both fashion themselves as outsiders bent on returning Illinois to glory days. If history is any indication, those who win the money race stand a good chance of getting to Election Day, although that’s not always the case.
Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay, famously spent a whopping $150 million running as the GOP candidate for California governor in the wide-open 2010 contest but still lost to Jerry Brown. In the end, $280 million was spent between both of them, in the most expensive statewide contest ever.
Back home, Rauner is up against some major hurdles put in place since he last was on the ballot, including a surprising reversal in September in which he signed legislation to provide additional public funding for abortion.
This editorial board has said the governor’s focus on workers comp reforms, fixing pensions and reforming government are worthy of support. But his handling of the state budget crisis and, more recently, opposition to important legislation that would require agencies report outstanding bill totals to the Illinois comptroller have given us pause.
We strongly believe our best path forward is if Democrats and Republicans work together, although that’s something of a pipedream considering the Springfield ecosystem.
For that reason, it might seem an outsider or more conservative candidate like Ives would stand a chance, especially as establishment Republicans across the country face increasing opposition. Whether donors and outside money coalesce around her remains to be seen. Either way, Ives will have a lot of ground to make up.
In the meantime, hefty war chests will undoubtedly be used to fund a blitzkrieg of TV ads in coming months. That momentum has already started, as evidenced by Rauner’s recently launched ad spots featuring the governors of Missouri, Indiana and Wisconsin thanking Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and bitter Rauner foe, for helping send Illinois jobs to their states. The ads are clumsy (“Cheeseheads love you, Madigan”) but effective – and telegraph a likely plot line for the incumbent governor.
Not to be outdone, Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel chain, had ads airing a few weeks after announcing his campaign.
All of which leads to this “Twilight Zone” moment for Illinois – a contest between filthy rich candidates using their own money to run one of worst financially managed states in America.
The money chase will only ramp up in the next year. Consider that the 2014 governor’s contest was the most expensive in Illinois history. The total was $112 million, an amount we’re poised to pass -- with a whole year to go before Election Day.