WASHINGTON — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Washington allergy seems to have been successfully treated with Thursday marking his fourth publicly announced visit here in a year, three of them in the past weeks.
In a tough battle with Democrat J.B. Pritzker, total avoidance of this town is off the table for Rauner, who spent 2016 and 2017 distancing himself from President Donald Trump and this city in order not to anger his moderate and swing voters.
With an election looming, Rauner in 2018 is strategically picking his spots in coming here.
Faced with a strong primary challenge from the right, and needing to shore up his base, Rauner made his first official visit here since taking office in February, for meetings in the Trump White House and to be in the chamber for the Supreme Court oral argument in the anti-union case he started, Janus v AFSCME, Council 31.
After narrowly winning the primary, Rauner was back in June for a brief press event at the Department of Transportation to highlight a $132 million grant, a federal share towards the latest work to revamp congested rail lines in Chicago.
At the end of June, Rauner camped out here for several days waiting for the Janus decision, which he won, and highlighted standing on the steps of the Supreme Court.
With the general election, Rauner needs votes outside his base to win — especially since he still has not unified his right flank. The Thursday day trip was pegged to accepting an award from the National Black Chamber of Commerce for his work helping African American companies win state contracts.
There are about 23 Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce chapters in Illinois and Rauner is well-known to the group. The event took place in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
It looks like the Rauner campaign will peg an appeal to African-American voters in part on his procurement policies, which have been criticized by Illinois state Senate Democrats.
Before heading to Dirksen, Rauner met with Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Jeff Gerrish to map ways to mitigate potential negative impacts in Illinois stemming from Trump igniting a trade war.
As in all things Trump, Rauner is treading carefully, balancing the looming hits industrial Illinois and soy and corn growers will take — without slamming Trump and his chaotic trade policies. Most years, Illinois and Iowa lead the nation in corn and soy production.
I talked about Illinois trade and Trump’s tariffs with Rauner, who noted that commodity prices were down.
The impact of the tariffs is “just starting. But it has the potential to be very difficult,” Rauner said.
Rauner is trying to win some waivers or exemptions from tariff restrictions for Illinois.
Rauner tiptoes around Trump, who created this problem.
“I applaud and support the administration’s efforts to improve our trade agreements and get more balanced trade,” Rauner said.
“The key is that we find a way to do that without causing an all-out trade war and massive tariffs that could actually really damage the American economy and the Illinois economy,” he said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., met with the Illinois Corn Growers Association this week and the Illinois Soybean Association last week.
Durbin said in a statement, “Illinois farmers have seen a 20 percent decline in the value of soybeans because of President Trump’s trade war.
“A bipartisan group of Senators, including myself and Senator Grassley of Iowa, have pleaded with the Trump Administration to give our farmers a break.”
Since Rauner was on Capitol Hill, he met with GOP Illinois Reps. John Shimkus and Rodney Davis. In past trips here he’s only met with Illinois Republicans.
Rauner, Durbin and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., all agree that Illinois farmers are at risk from Trump tariffs.
There is potential for bipartisan pressure on Trump on this.
Rauner was a short stroll away from the offices of Durbin and Tammy Duckworth. Their spokesmen confirmed Rauner and his team didn’t even contact them to let them know he was on the Senate side of the Capitol.