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WASHINGTON: Lessons for Gov. Bruce Rauner from Virginia race

The video in which Gov. Bruce Rauner officially announced his re-election bid included footage of the leather-clad Republican riding his Harley Davidson through Illinois. | Screenshot

The video in which Gov. Bruce Rauner officially announced his re-election bid included footage of the leather-clad Republican riding his Harley Davidson through Illinois. | Screenshot

Is Sen. Bernie Sanders to blame for the election of Donald J. Trump? Some may say that Sanders’ followers helped Trump get a bump.

Maybe not, but take a look at Virginia’s recent governor’s race. You might spy a political lesson for Illinois and Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Bernie, Schmernie, you say?

I’ll explain.

OPINION

Democrats across the nation were pumped last week by a series of electoral victories. In particular, Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam inspired moderate and liberal democrats to deliver him a win over Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Gillespie, a longtime moderate, tacked to the right in the general election and pushed a racially divisive platform of wedge issues.

Democrats had feared a divide coming out of their June primary, which pitted Northam, a mild-mannered pediatric neurologist, against Tom Perriello, a former, one-term congressman who ran unapologetically left, championing transgender and immigration rights and community policing. Perriello was also backed by leaders of the party’s insurgent left, including Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam. | Steve Helber/AP

So, the Northam/Gillespie matchup was eyed as a key test of party unity. The New York Times dubbed it “the most significant intra party Democratic contest yet in the Trump era.”

In the general election, Northam hewed to the center. Would deflated Berniecrats support a moderate in the general election?

They came out strong.  Northam beat Gillespie by nine points.

Democrats unified and kept Virginia blue. (If Sanders’ supporters had been more enthusiastic about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton last year, the White House would be occupied by a woman, instead of a womanizer).

The Virginia race offers a lesson for Rauner, widely considered the most vulnerable GOP governor in the nation.

Ahead of Illinois’ 2018 gubernatorial contest, the conservative wing of his party is deeply disenchanted.

Conservatives squirm at Rauner’s positions on immigration, education funding, and health care. Last week, more than a dozen of Rauner’s legislative vetoes were overturned by the Illinois General Assembly, some with Republican votes.

The crowning glory of their discontent: Rauner’s decision to sign HB 40, a law that expanded access to abortions. It triggered open outrage and inspired Republican State Rep. Jeanne Ives to consider challenging her governor in the March GOP primary.

Rauner has been tiptoeing around the president and is loath to even utter his name.  That may not sit well with Republican righties, who love them some Trump.

State Rep. Jeanne Ives. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

If Ives runs, the Wheaton legislator will try to tap into conservative anger and knock Rauner off his aw-shucks talking points.

Ives is out of step with most Illinois voters. Every time she beats up on Rauner for failing conservative litmus tests, she will endear him to the moderate Republicans and independents he’ll need in the fall.

Most Illinois voters are concerned with the bread and butter issues like the economy and jobs. As Rauner well knows, wedge issues like abortion and gun control will pull him down a no-win rabbit hole.

Like Northam, Rauner should stay tightly tethered to the center.

Governor, keep droppin’ those “g’s,” ridin’ that Harley, and hammering away at Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan as the root of all evil.

If the lefties can help elect a moderate Democrat in Virginia, the righties might help save the governor’s mansion for the GOP in Illinois.

Email: lauraswashington@aol.com

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