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Sensing defeat, Rauner admits seeking other candidates to replace him on ballot

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to supporters after losing his re-election bid. | AP Photo/Matt Marton

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to supporters after losing his re-election bid. | AP Photo

Last April, state Sen. Karen McConnaughey got a call from Gov. Bruce Rauner — who had a surprising request.

Rauner, fresh off a narrow primary victory in his bid for re-election, asked McConnaughey to take his place on the ballot.

Rauner said “he’s really made an enemy out of labor and they’re really going to come at him,” the Kane County Republican recalled Friday. He told her he didn’t see a path for victory in the general election vs. Democrat J.B. Pritzker.

McConnaughey — who said she was taken aback by the call — was not the only potential candidate Rauner tried to recruit before he was walloped in the election last month, the governor revealed in an interview with ABC7 .

Rauner admitted he reached out to three others to take his place in the uphill battle.

“I said, ‘I’ll step aside, I’ll give you huge financial resources, you run for governor, I’ll support you. You have as good or better chance to get elected than me.’ All four of them said, ‘No, too tough, too unlikely, too difficult,'” Rauner — a millionaire venture capitalist — said in the television interview that aired Thursday night.

Rauner’s efforts to seek a replacement for himself started even before the March primary, when he narrowly beat state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton). His outreach extended into the summer, the station reported, and included calls to Republican fundraisers and Cubs part-owner Todd Ricketts. The Chicago Tribune reported that another recruit was Erika Harold, who ended up losing the race for Illinois attorney general. Rauner said he also asked a fourth person, but he did not identify him.

A spokesman for Ricketts declined to comment. Harold couldn’t be reached.

McConnaughey, who resigned from her own seat earlier this year, criticized the governor, noting he was completely disregarding the process in place to select a candidate for the party.

“I asked him, ‘Do you understand how this works?’” McConnaughey said in an interview. “Without ever getting into does this make sense or not, it was, ‘Do you understand how this works? You need to talk to the party. It doesn’t work that way.’”

Former Illinois Sen. Karen McConnaughay

Former Illinois Sen. Karen McConnaughay

Indeed, officials said if Rauner had relinquished the nomination, the GOP state central committee would have had eight days to name a replacement, according to State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich.

“Obviously, he could have recommended a preferred replacement, but the decision would have had to be made by the Republican state central committee,” Dietrich said.

McConnaughey said Rauner’s tactic was similar to his style of governing.

“He tried to end his career as governor the same way he got into it — always this idea he would strong-arm it,” she said. “He never respected the fact that there’s a process to governing. Never accepted responsibility for mistakes he made, always [House Speaker Michael] Madigan or someone else’s fault.”

She added: “The Republicans could have and should have had a better candidate. He didn’t bring the kind of energy to the race that was necessary.”

During the interview, Rauner also blamed President Trump as a “contributing factor” in his 16-point loss to Pritzker. He believes his chances to stay in office would have been better if Democrat Hillary Clinton had won.