How high are the stakes? Follow the money — all $100 million

SHARE How high are the stakes? Follow the money — all $100 million

They could have bought 29 Walgreens-leased drug store properties across the country.

Or just given each of the state’s 12.8 million residents $7.76.

Instead, Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican Bruce Rauner spent their combined $100 million trying to get elected.

Nothing shows just how high the stakes are in Tuesday’s governor’s race like those dollar signs.

Campaigns for the Democratic incumbents and Republican challenger are poised to spend $100 million collectively — with $65 million of that from Rauner’s campaign — on an often vicious race that’s engaged the state’s business community and labor unions.

That record-breaking spending for an Illinois race is on par with the $100 million that Florida-based The Herrick Company spent in August to buy 29 pharmacy/retail properties under long-term lease to Walgreens.

The bulk of Quinn’s and Rauner’s campaign spending went toward the negative political ads that have blanketed the airwaves; an attempt by each camp to make the race a referendum on the other guy.

Those ads continued over the weekend and Monday as the candidates crisscrossed the state making personal appearances to reach every last voter.

As far as campaign cash, Rauner has made the biggest personal financial commitment, pumping more than $27 million into his own candidacy. Rauner, a wealthy venture capitalist, began running ads one year ago, focusing his attacks on Quinn — even though he hadn’t yet won the Republican primary.

Similarly, the Illinois Freedom PAC, a coalition funded by labor, in Illinois began a narrative earlier this year that painted Rauner as a cold, out-of-touch businessman. The group, which has funded a series of negative ads against Rauner, has raised another $8.6 million.

That’s money that’s given through smaller donations that labor leaders say cannot be compared as apples to apples with Rauner, who is able to tap huge sums of cash from his and his friends’ personal fortunes for his ads portraying Quinn as a failure.

“This has been unprecedented. I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Aviva Bowen, Illinois Federation of Teachers spokeswoman. “It’s just been impressive and tireless from top to bottom in Illinois.

“I think we’re going to see that Rauner’s money was no match for our motivation. I think it’s important to remember that labor is made up of dedicated men and women: they’re teachers, they’re firefighters, they’re nurses and they’re your neighbors. That’s powerful. That’s strength in numbers.”

Republicans say they have their own ground troops.

Ron Gidwitz, a onetime GOP governor’s candidate who is a co-chair of Rauner’s campaign, said the Republican ground game is like it’s never been in Illinois. 

“Our ground game is head and shoulders above what it was four years ago,” Gidwitz said. “It was so close last time with a candidate who in my view was far less acceptable [to different voters] than Bruce is. We’ve got a candidate who has great voter appeal this time.”

In August, the Sun-Times reported that both campaigns were already reporting record spending. At that point, taken together, the amount of spending nearly exceeded the two previous gubernatorial cycles combined during the comparable time period.

By June, Rauner had blown the margins set by his three Republican predecessors over the same time period.

The pace hasn’t led up. That was borne out by the multitude of negative ads each camp bankrolled.

Overall in this governor’s race, there were a series of firsts.

• Rauner broke a record for self-funding for a gubernatorial candidate,

tapping at least $27.5 million from his own personal fortune. He’s on pace to break a broader record set by U.S. Senate candidate Blair Hull, who poured $28.6 million into his failed campaign.

•Billionaire Ken Griffin, Citadel CEO, broke a record for the biggest single donation when he gave $2.5 million to Rauner in one shot.

•Surges in spending following the March primary saw both campaigns combined burning through cash at a rate not seen this millennium.

Beyond TV what did the money buy?

There’s no question that part of the resources from both campaigns went toward getting out the early vote. The Illinois State Board of Elections on Monday reported that more than 500,000 people cast early votes — a 30 percent increase from 2010.

One factor in the jump is that early voting this year was extended through the weekend compared to 2010 when it ended earlier in the week prior to the election, said Jim Tenuto with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Tenuto said it was too early to say if the increase is an indicator of Tuesday’s turnout. 

“That’s the mystery. It may just be a matter of convenience. It will be interesting to see how it’ll affect the turnout,” Tenuto said.

Contributing: Art Golab

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