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Defeated Rauner wishes Pritzker ‘Godspeed’ — Democrat vows ‘rise we will’

Democrat J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday scored a swift and decisive victory over Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner — who never recovered from a splinter within his own party and the record-breaking resources Pritzker threw into his gubernatorial campaign.

Less than an hour after polls closed, Rauner called Pritzker to concede and promised a smooth transition. With 90 percent of precincts reporting, Pritzker was leading 54 percent to Rauner’s 38 percent.

In his victory speech, Pritzker spoke optimistically of an uphill battle to help save the state from itself.

“We don’t need to be afraid of our history in Illinois. Who we are is how we overcome our biggest challenges,” Pritzker said. “We work to mend broken places. We light the journey from hill to hilltop and recognize that there is grace … in the courage to rise.

“And ladies and gentleman, rise we will,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker spoke of “hope” and “optimism,” his ties to the state, and his pledge to help fight for healthcare, education, criminal justice reform, environmental policies, gun safety and a “responsible state budget.” The Democrat, too, said he’d bring fairness to the tax system and tackle the state’s fiscal challenges, while also helping the state become a leader in protecting worker, civil and human rights.

The victory also means the state will see its first African-American lieutenant governor in state Rep. Juliana Stratton.

Pritzker, buoyed by the $171.5 million he poured into his campaign, led an expansive, well-run statewide campaign, with hundreds of field offices and staffers. His millions of dollars in spending made his  television ads unavoidable, as were digital ads splattered onto Facebook, YouTube and even Spotify.

The heir to the Hyatt fortune, too, ensured his chances by starting his campaign early. Pritzker announced his run 578 days ago. And Democratic forces had already been in play far earlier to try to defeat Rauner, whom they staged a war with throughout the budget impasse.

The embattled Republican governor told Pritzker, “‘Godspeed. I hope and pray you serve Illinois well,'” the governor told his supporters at the Drake Hotel during his concession speech.

Rauner, too, asked for unity: “This is a time for us to come together. This is a time for us to unite. This is a time for us to put aside partisan politics, to move forward together as the citizens of Illinois, to create a better future for our children and our grandchildren,” Rauner said.

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Rauner’s campaign said, simply, it was a “bad night for Republicans, especially in Illinois.” The campaign, too, noted suburban voters who dislike President Donald Trump “are taking it out on all Republicans” throughout the country. They also noted Democrats came out in full force in Cook County.

In the end, the blow was quick and brutal for Rauner, a political outsider, who vowed to turn around the state four years ago. Instead, he became known for his battles with political foe Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan — and left to blame for the state’s longest budget which amassed the state in billions of dollars in debt and decimated the state’s public universities.

Democrats, too, worked hard to try to link Rauner to Trump. For years, Rauner dodged questions about the president. Last year, the governor spoke out about some of his more divisive rhetoric. This year, with the campaign season underway, the governor credited the president for his tax plan. And Rauner himself drove his Harley to a Trump rally last month in Downstate Murphysboro, but was ignored by the president.

For Rauner, the momentum — and record-setting cash flow — was too much to overcome. Rauner, a self-made millionaire, for weeks lamented that he couldn’t match the spending of a billionaire. But that was also part of a tactic to show voters Pritzker may not understand the struggles of the middle-class.

The Gold Coast billionaire’s $171.5 million bought him a place in the record books, breezing past Republican Meg Whitman, who set the previous record in 2010, when the former eBay honcho churned $144 million of her own fortune into her losing battle against Democrat Jerry Brown

The combined $255 million that Pritzker and Rauner raised in their bitter battle falls short of the combined $280 million that Brown and Whitman ultimately spent.

Rauner had plenty of odds stacked against him, including two third-party candidates, with both likely taking votes away from him. Rauner faced a bruising in the March primary, winning by just four points against challenger state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton. Ives, an ardent abortion opponent, highlighted Rauner’s signing of HB40, a measure that expanded taxpayer funding of abortion, as a sign Rauner had abandoned the state party. But Rauner, since his days first campaigning, had said he was a social moderate but had no social agenda.

With 90 percent of precincts reporting, state Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, had 4 percent, while Libertarian candidate Grayson “Kash” Jackson had 2 percent.

In 2014, Rauner won every county in Illinois besides Cook. With 90 percent of precincts reporting, Pritzker had 61 percent to Rauner’s 33 percent in Cook County.  In Chicago, with 96 percent of precincts reporting, Pritzker had 81 percent of the vote, with Rauner at 15 percent.

Pritzker ended his campaign with a big get-out-the-vote effort by former President Barack Obama, who hosted a large rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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Rauner, 62, had served as Illinois’ governor since 2015. In his re-election campaigning, Rauner touted “historic change” made under his administration, citing education funding reform and taxpayer savings via changes to government operations and Medicaid. He claimed a second term would be “transformative” for the state, but blamed Madigan for blocking much of the change he promised when he first ran. Rauner’s running mate was Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti.

Pritzker, 53, won the Democratic party ticket by a wide margin in the primaries in a crowded race of challengers to Rauner. A venture capitalist from a well-known, wealthy family, his platform included balancing the budget with tax redistribution, better funding public education with an emphasis on vocational education in high schools, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and opposing union-busting policies like “right-to-work” zones in the state.

Contributing: Adam Thorp, Rachel Frazin

RELATED: Here’s the transcript of lively Rauner-Pritzker debate at the Sun-Times


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