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Rauner ‘trying to overlap’ with Trump during Saturday Downstate campaign swing

Gov. Bruce Rauner, left, File Photo. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times; President Donald Trump. | AP

Gov. Bruce Rauner has largely avoided President Trump like the plague — but with the election just 15 days away, the embattled Republican governor on Monday said he’d try to meet with the president during a visit to southern Illinois this weekend.

Trump is holding a rally Saturday afternoon at the Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro to try to boost Republican Rep. Mike Bost in the midterm elections. Polls show Bost neck and neck with Democrat Brendan Kelly.

Asked if he’ll attend the rally, Rauner told reporters he hopes “to be able to join the president when he’s here.”

“His schedule is very hectic as is mine. But we’re trying to overlap,” Rauner said at a campaign stop in Wood Dale. “I look forward to getting together with the president if we can — talk about trade, talk about immigration and some of the other policies that are very important for Illinois.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks with workers at Tempco in Wood Dale. | Tina Sfondeles for the Sun-Times
Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks with workers at Tempco in Wood Dale. | Tina Sfondeles for the Sun-Times

It’s unclear if the governor, will indeed, meet with the president. But even saying he’s interested in meeting with Trump could win him some favor with conservatives in Illinois. Rauner is still reeling from a contentious primary that saw him win by just four points. And he’s also facing an ultra-conservative third party candidate in State Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview.

In late July, Rauner had a full slate of events, criss-crossing the state as the president visited a steel plant in downstate Illinois. And the governor’s office said then that the White House knew Rauner “couldn’t be there anyway.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker’s campaign — and other Democratic-allied groups — have worked hard to try to tie Rauner to Trump and to push a blue wave throughout the state.

And like clockwork, Pritzker’s campaign pounced on Rauner’s willingness to meet with Trump.

“Illinoisans are disgusted by Donald Trump, but Bruce Rauner is so desperate that he’s begging Trump for a photo-op just weeks before the election,” Pritzker campaign spokesman Jason Rubin said in a statement. “This is a Hail Mary from a failed governor willing to abandon Illinois families and communities to try and save his flailing campaign.”

On July 13, Rauner appeared alongside Vice President Mike Pence at a Rosemont campaign event. Rauner backed up his praise for Pence but wouldn’t answer whether his approval of Pence implied a pro-Trump stance. When asked directly whether he supported Trump, Rauner said he’s “supportive of many things,” such as tax cuts and rollback of regulations, but he opposed the way the administration handled the Charlottesville violence or the separation of children at the border.

In February, Rauner told the Sun-Times he has a very limited relationship with the president. He also said his “biggest concern” about the president is his “rhetoric.”

“I’ve only spoken to the president once to congratulate him on his victory. I don’t have a particularly close personal relationship with him,” the governor said before the Sun-Times Editorial Board.

Still, he said his close ties to Pence and Pence’s chief of staff — former Rauner campaign adviser Nick Ayers — mean he works closely with the administration.

“I work with them. It’s my job to work with them,” Rauner said in February.

Trump’s campaign noted the Murphysboro rally will be his third in Illinois since he kicked off his presidential run in 2015. Trump’s first Illinois campaign rally was in Springfield in November 2015. A Trump rally in Chicago was canceled in March 2016 amid security concerns.

Trump’s only other big public Illinois campaign stop was a quick September 2016 visit in which he squeezed in a short speech and a few meetings at the Polish National Alliance on the Far Northwest Side and a fundraiser in southwest suburban Bolingbrook, but no rally.


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