How The GOP Is Blowing An Easy Guv Seat Pickup In Illinois

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner is getting some serious help from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) who is coming to campaign in the state on Tuesday. It’s increasingly looking like Rauner will need it.

This was not always the case. For much of the 2014 election cycle, Rauner seemed to be the state’s de facto governor-elect, but more and more it’s looking like Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D), whose poll numbers are hardly ideal, may actually win re-election. At the very least, Quinn won’t suffer the humiliating defeat on election night that many were expecting.

The TPM Polltracker average shows the race is a toss up. Rauner currently holds a 0.3-point lead over Quinn. That’s after a spate of polls in September and October actually showed Quinn ahead of Rauner.

As recently as August, Rauner was leading by nearly double digits over Quinn. And it’s easy to see why. In May, FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten wrote that Quinn had just a 25 percent chance of winning re-election. A Chicago Tribune poll in September found that 49 percent of voters said they disapprove of Quinn’s job performance while just 36 percent said they approve. Much of Quinn’s time as governor (which came right after the infamous tenure of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D)) has also intersected with an ongoing pension crisis in Illinois.

But Quinn has been able to stay competitive in his re-election fight. The reason seems to be a mix of things. Rauner has suffered from some lackluster headlines, most recently, first news that Rauner directly threatened a former business associate and then, earlier in the week, news that Rauner’s campaign tried to retaliate against one of the reporters who reported that story. He also had to talk his way out of a gaffe in which he said he wanted to lower the minimum wage, and admitted he belonged to a $100,000 wine club.

More than that, though, Rauner seems to have not been able to deliver the knockout blows he’s needed to really clinch the election. Thomas Bowen, the former political director for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) and former campaign manager to former White House chief of staff Bill Daley, who very briefly ran against Quinn in the Democratic primary, was even more direct about it.

“Pat Quinn has run a better than expected campaign and Bruce Rauner has run a horrible campaign,” Bowen told TPM.

In a followup email, Bowen said, “I’m surprised how many opportunities Rauner missed.”

In a way, observers say, Rauner, a wealthy billionaire (who’s made no secret about his fortune) is an ideal candidate to run against Quinn, who angles himself as a populist Democrat. Quinn’s campaign is eager to highlight that contrast.

“The choice could not be more clear: Governor Quinn fights for working families and building the middle class, while Bruce Rauner fights for himself and other billionaires like him,” Quinn communications director Brooke Anderson told TPM.

The Rauner campaign did not respond to multiple emails from TPM.

Politico recently noted that Quinn’s campaign has also adopted the anti-Mitt Romney playbook of hitting an out-of-touch billionaire whose record includes private equity work that has resulted in questionable mortgage lending and bankrupt nursing homes. And Rauner hasn’t really rebuffed that in an effective way, Bowen said.

“There are no testimonial ads that he started or saved telling folks about how qualified he is,” Bowen said. “The strange thing about this is this guy has the resources. He made $63 million in 2013. He made $50 million in 2012. I’ll bet you he’s going to make $50 million in 2014. This guy’s got plenty of money.”

Democrats involved in the gubernatorial elections say more than in other elections this cycle, the negative stories about Rauner (him feuding with business colleagues, and then trying to quash the reporting on that as well as him highlighting how he’s a stronger candidate than Mitt Romney was) really played into the framing Rauner’s opponents have tried to make of him — that Rauner is kind of a bully.

“He’s been a bully relative to the Sun-Times and his old stomping grounds and frankly it’s kind of the subtext of the whole race —that he’s going to go in there by force of will and change the dynamic in Springfield,” a Democratic strategist and operative connected to Quinn’s re-election campaign said. “So I think it’s one of those things where the controversy is sort of on-message, I guess. So I think it has the potential to impact —it looks awful.”

View the TPM Polltracker ratings below.

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