Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday kicked off a campaign-funded two-day tour of the state — all the while denying that he’s kicking off his re-election or that the 10 stops are campaign-related.
Rauner’s campaign fund is running strong with $50.8 million — and his Illinois Republican Party has released a bevy of e-mails and digital ads targeting Democratic gubernatorial candidates J.B. Pritzker, Chris Kennedy, state Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, and Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th).
But he’s apparently not ready to talk about re-election.
Rauner’s first stop on Tuesday was at the NOW Foods factory in Bloomingdale. The governor toured the facility wearing goggles, a gown and a cap, and thanked workers — and vowed to work hard to “change the system” to ensure their future in Illinois.
Rauner denied that the stops were to officially announce his re-election: “I’ve traveled many times over the last couple of years, and this trip is not an election announcement. It’s traveling the state to communicate with the people of Illinois,” Rauner said. “We need to change our system in Illinois. Our system is broken. Our jobs have been leaving. Our taxes are too high. We haven’t been funding our schools properly. And we’re here to talk about the changes.”
“Are you running or are you not?” a reporter asked the governor.
“This is nothing to do with the election,” Rauner said.
“I travel the state all the time,” Rauner repeated.
“But your campaign doesn’t pay for it,” a reporter observed, interrupting.
“Sometimes. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. What I don’t want to do is have it covered in any way other than communication to the people of Illinois,” Rauner said. “We want this to be separate and just paid for independently from any government operations. Because why not? Why not? Why does it need to be?”
As for his official re-election, Rauner said “that will be discussed later on.”
“The election will be its own process later on. This is not about the election.”
Two governor’s office aides were at the event, although they said they were their volunteering their time. The governor had no official events on his public schedule for Tuesday.
During the event, Rauner’s campaign launched emails requesting contributions to fund fliers, fuel, pizza and recruitment for volunteers for the two-day tour: “Every donation counts as we work to get out the important message this week; we’re so grateful for your support!” the campaign said in an email.
Rauner left the Bloomingdale stop to head to the airport for his second stop, in Rockford. He also had planned appearances in Rock Island, Peoria and Springfield. On Wednesday he plans to visit Quincy, East Alton, Marion, Robinson and Champaign.
The Illinois Republican Party on Tuesday said the tour was being paid with political resources “out of an abundance of caution.” A party spokeswoman also noted the governor has had political events since elected that were not considered campaign or re-election events.
“Any news on a re-election campaign will come much later,” the spokeswoman said.
RELATED: Poll: Rauner approval rating up, but still near bottom nationwide
The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform reacted to the Rauner tour by urging the two sides in Springfield to get to work — and work together.
“Illinois voters want to see a resolution to the Illinois budget crisis, including a path forward for social service agencies and higher education,” Executive Director Sarah Brune said in an email to the Sun-Times. “It has been 650 days since Illinois has had a full budget, and voters want to see compromise and collaboration between elected officials, not more finger pointing and political messaging.”
Some candidates vying to face Rauner in 2018, meanwhile, threw daggers at the governor for his two-day tour — with three candidates calling it campaigning.
Kennedy said Rauner should use the tour “to explain why his Turnaround Agenda is more important than a state budget.”
“While he plays politics, our schools continue to go without the resources they need, the social safety net is being shredded, and violence has become the norm in neighborhoods across the state. We ask him to put his agenda aside and give the people a budget,” Kennedy said in a statement.
Pritzker accused Rauner of “once again choosing to put politics over doing his job as Governor.”
“While Rauner heads out on the campaign trail, our state still doesn’t have a budget and Northeastern campus is shutting down again. This is devastating,” Pritzker said. “Illinois families have had enough of Bruce Rauner’s failed leadership and they are ready for a progressive leader who will fight for what’s right and actually get things done for our state.”
Pawar called Rauner’s two-day jaunt an attempt at distraction from the seniors who have lost services, the low-income college students who aren’t getting grants, those who aren’t getting affordable child care and those who have lost mental health resources throughout the budget impasse.
“It’s past time for Gov. Rauner to put politics aside and govern. Our state can’t afford to wait any longer,” Pawar said in a statement.
With the 2018 primary still a year away, Rauner last month began appearing in television ads throughout the state, targeting Democrats for using “duct tape” to fix the state’s financial problems.
An arm of the Republican Governors Association purchased a total of $1.05 million worth of TV time to air 15- and 30-second advertisements featuring Rauner in five TV markets statewide: Chicago, Champaign-Springfield, Rockford, Quad-Cities and Peoria-Bloomington, records show.
According to documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission, the ads are labeled “non-candidate advertising” and concern “Illinois governmental and fiscal reform” — so they’re not technically political campaign ads that must be reported to the state’s election board.
Rauner says the ads have nothing to do with his hopes of being re-elected. Instead, they’re focused on getting a state budget deal passed.