When superrich Republican Bruce Rauner decided to run for governor of Illinois, it was clear this wouldn’t be the kind of race the state was accustomed to. Rauner, who made his fortune as a venture capitalist, was new to campaigning and bragged of being beholden to no one. He came out swinging at entrenched special interests and “government union bosses” with an intensity not seen before.
Organized labor, which has long had cordial relations with state Republicans, went to full battle stations. Unions have pumped millions of dollars into an advertising offensive to counter the new threat in advance of the March 18 primary. And Rauner has already committed more than $6 million from his own bank account to the battle.
Both sides, having watched labor lose power under GOP governors in surrounding states, are fighting as if more than a single office is at stake.
“I think all the national unions fear they’ll have another Scott Walker on their hands if he should come in,” said Don Rose, a longtime Chicago political analyst, referring to the Republican governor of Wisconsin who stripped state employee unions of most of their bargaining powers after his election in 2010.
And Republicans, who have not controlled the Illinois governor’s mansion since 2003, see the race as the way to re-establish the party in a state that has been immune to the conservative drift elsewhere in the Midwest.
Rauner is considered the heavy favorite in the four-way GOP primary. The outcome will determine who faces Gov. Pat Quinn, whom many Democrats see as vulnerable amid a state budget crisis and high unemployment.