Spring break over: Rauner, Pritzker begin general election TV war

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Gov. Bruce Rauner, left, and Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker, right. | File photos

Kicking off the TV air war, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner plans to begin running his first post-primary statewide television ad Tuesday, once again seeking to link Democrat J.B. Pritzker to imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

And Pritzker, a billionaire philanthropist and self-funder, plans to follow suit immediately — releasing the first in a “Rauner Failed Me” series of TV ads aimed at documenting “how Bruce Rauner has failed Illinoisans across the state,” his campaign said.

The 30-second Rauner ad called “Hilarious” once again features FBI wiretapped conversations, this time with audio of Blagojevich joking about appointing the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, President Barack Obama’s controversial former pastor, to fill Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat.

“I bet ya he’d take it,” Blagojevich says.

“Hilarious,” Pritzker responds.

The audio recording ends with Pritzker and Blagojevich both mocking one of Wright’s most notorious statements.

“God Damn America,” both Blagojevich and Pritzker say in the tapes.

Gov. Bruce Rauner campaign ad featuring FBI wiretaps of conversations between Rod Blagojevich and J.B. Pritzker. Screen image.

Gov. Bruce Rauner campaign ad featuring FBI wiretaps of conversations between Rod Blagojevich and J.B. Pritzker. Screen image.

The seven-figure ad buy doesn’t set an early record for ads aired after a primary, although it does come about a month earlier than Rauner began his 2014 general election ad blitz against then Gov. Pat Quinn.

And it’s certainly not unchartered territory for the Rauner campaign to zero in on the controversial wiretapped conversations. Sources said Rauner’s campaign had planned to launch the first TV ad after the budget signing. But the quick turnaround is also in part a response to the cool $25 million Pritzker poured into his campaign war chest last week.

There’s been a wait-and-see attitude between the two wealthy candidates, with the governor — a former private equity investor — paying attention to Pritzker’s contributions to signal movement, and Pritzker’s campaign ready to run an ad in response to Rauner’s latest attack.

The Pritzker ad features Brent Williams, a Bloomington union laborer, who speaks of the struggles he endured when road construction became impacted by the budget impasse. The campaign quickly launched the “Rauner Failed Me” digital campaign the day after Pritzker’s decisive win in the primary.

“When I’m not working, I’m not making money, and roads and bridges aren’t being fixed,” he says. “Along with me, there was 20,000 other workers that were laid off. I don’t know that Bruce Rauner does think of me. Why would we do it for four more years?”

Rauner still has about $39.6 million cash on hand in his campaign fund, while Pritzker has $38.1 million, contribution filings show. But both men can replenish those funds from their personal fortunes whenever they wish.

Back in January, Rauner and Pritzker remained focused on one another rather than their primary challengers, with Rauner accusing Pritzker of “shady, insider dealings” with Blagojevich and Pritzker quickly responding with a TV ad blaming Rauner for the deaths of 13 people at a Downstate veterans home.

January marked the first time the wiretaps made it to a TV campaign ad. The Illinois Republican Party in December launched robocalls featuring another Blagojevich recording from 2008 with aide Doug Scofield in which the former governor talks about Pritzker’s fundraising ability: “If I can get J.B. to do something like that, is it worth giving him the Senate seat? Incidentally, he asked me for it,” Blagojevich says on the tape.

The Pritzker campaign has insisted there was nothing “untoward” about the conversations, and pointed out that Pritzker said he wasn’t interested in a Senate seat and “moves away from the type of conversation that landed Rod Blagojevich in prison.”

The planned ad launch comes a day after Rauner signed into law a bipartisan budget — the first one he’s signed since taking office in 2015.

While June is early for a post-primary TV ad, it’s not a record.

Blagojevich himself was among the first to run early post-primary ads during his 2006 campaign. Two 15-second ads began airing in April 2006 — contrasting Blagojevich’s support for a minimum wage increase and an assaults weapons ban with Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka’s opposition to those proposals.

“It’s very difficult to, to define what is an assault weapon,” Topinka, then state treasurer, said in one ad. “I mean a rolling pin can be an assault weapon if you really want to look at it that way.”

The Blagojevich campaign’s brutal ad featured a narrator repeating the phrase, “What’s she thinking?”

Topinka’s campaign said the early round of negativity showed Blagojevich was in trouble in the polls. But the popular Republican was never able to catch up to Blagojevich.

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