Wealthy Dems may beat wealthy Rauner

Illinois has elected just two wealthy people to major

statewide office in the last 20 years: Former U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald and

Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Both candidates won because they ran as firm,

anti-establishment outsiders. Fitzgerald was best known as a state Senator in

the 1990s for railing against the elders who ran his Republican Party,

including many who had been supplying the GOP with loads of money over the

years and who’d used their positions to handsomely profit off of state

business. Rauner also ran against his party’s insiders when he launched his

campaign, dismissing them as bought and paid for by Springfield’s special

interests.

What establishment party support both men did receive mostly

came at the end of their general election campaigns. Their personal finances,

which allowed them to self-fund, kept them free of establishment taint, and

that independence gave both of them credibility as outsiders. As election day

neared, some establishment GOP figures decided they’d better swallow their pride

and get on board. The establishment needed the insurgents more than the

insurgents needed the establishment.

Billionaire Democrat JB Pritzker isn’t following this

pattern as he campaigns for governor. Insiders, elected officials and

politically connected union leaders have been jumping on his bandwagon from the

get-go, usually after being impressed with Pritzker during one-on-one meetings.

The game plan seems pretty obvious. Pritzker doesn’t want

those folks and groups endorsing Chris Kennedy, whose last name is still

immensely popular and whose own connections over the decades would’ve

guaranteed him support from his party’s elders if Pritzker and his infinite

bank account hadn’t stepped in. Kennedy doesn’t have Pritzker’s kind of money,

so Kennedy is perceived as needing support from the people and groups who fund

and staff the party’s apparatus. At the moment, those folks are streaming

toward Pritzker amid a cacophony of whispers (all denied) that House Speaker

Michael J. Madigan is directing the traffic. Starve Kennedy of money and foot

soldiers and maybe he’ll drop out.

Kennedy, whose personal wealth is substantial, but nothing

like Pritzker’s, has made some half-hearted attempts to claim that endorsements

don’t matter whenever he loses them. But he hasn’t yet embraced (or maybe

doesn’t even recognize) the role that’s literally being thrust upon him.

Kennedy’s originally preferred path of being the widely endorsed “inevitable”

candidate is now owned by Pritzker. By default, Kennedy’s now the most prominent

“outsider” in the race.

After almost two and a half years of Rauner’s rule, the

government is in shambles. Rauner’s first campaign video back in 2013

complained that the state had “the highest unemployment in the

Midwest,” and that’s still true today. He pointed to the state’s

“lowest credit rating in America,” and that’s only gotten worse.

“Springfield is broken; $8,000 in pension debt for every man, woman and

child,” Rauner bemoaned in the video. That figure is now $10,000.

So, maybe Illinois voters will yearn for someone who can

work with Springfield to solve our massive problems and get us back to a

semblance of normalcy after three populist governors in a row couldn’t get

anything done. That appears to be where both Pritzker and Kennedy are going.

If Rauner doesn’t obtain a budget deal, he will simply run

against the establishment again, claiming the evil powers that be (Speaker

Madigan) have blocked him at every turn, but that he is “very close”

to breaking their self-serving logjam. And, indeed, if he is re-elected after

what could be four years of gridlock, the Democrats will have to start working

with him. Democrats claim that Rauner hid his “real” agenda from

voters in 2014. But that agenda is now crystal clear to everyone.

Almost half of Illinois Democrats voted for insurgent

presidential candidate Bernie Sanders a year ago. A recent poll by the Paul

Simon Public Policy Institute showed that Gov. Rauner is slightly more popular

than Speaker Madigan in Chicago, of all places.

So, an authentic, independent, populist message from the

late Robert Kennedy’s sincere, accomplished and mild-mannered son could very

well resonate.

One of the things you can’t help but notice in the press

coverage of Kennedy’s Downstate appearances is the reports on crowd size. His

family name is packing halls all over the place as locals come out to witness a

part of history.

The obvious question is whether Kennedy can sustain this.

His name and the hints of his family’s famous accent in his speaking voice are

working like a charm for him right now. But will it last?

If he embraces a different direction, I think the answer

could be yes.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political

newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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