Republican governor nominee Bruce Rauner seems to have momentum, but it’s much too early to be writing Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn’s concession speech.
In the past few weeks, Larry Sabato, a political scientist from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, switched his “Crystal Ball” look at Illinois governor from a toss-up to leaning Republican. Stuart Rothenberg, a political columnist for Roll Call and editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, shifted his prediction from a toss-up to Rauner, too.
Polling taken for Quinn and a prominent union show a tight race, with Rauner leading, while polls taken for the Chicago Sun-Times and Reboot Illinois by We Ask America give Rauner double-digit leads.
So why not conclude Quinn is toast?
He’s a scrappy fighter from a still-solid blue state with a crafty tactician on his side in the form of House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.
History shows Chicago and Cook County dominate on Election Day. In the 2010 general election, Cook County produced fully 38 percent of all ballots cast in Illinois. Cook and the collar counties combined accounted for almost two-thirds of all votes four years ago. That same sort of breakdown also occurred in 2012 in a presidential year when turnout was significantly higher.
The thinking goes that Republicans must win 20 percent of the Chicago vote to win the election. Recent media polls show Rauner just under that mark.
Madigan, the Democratic state party chairman, is pulling every lever he controls to give Quinn and his party every advantage he can find. Madigan and his supporters succeeded in stopping a redistricting reform question and might ultimately do the same with a term limits question funded by Rauner.
The November ballot instead will be overflowing with questions designed to drive Democratic-leaning citizens to vote. Should millionaires pay more in taxes? Do we need to increase the minimum wage? Who should pay for birth control? In Chicago and Cook County, there will be more questions on mental health funding, gun sale rules, medical marijuana, airport soundproofing and funding for at-risk students.
None of these will become law if voters approve them, but that’s beside the point. They exist to help Democrats appeal to various special interest voters who might need to be compelled to go vote.
And think what you will about Madigan, he’s held power for more than 40 years because he knows what levers to push to keep that power and help fellow Democrats.
He, Quinn and the Democratic Party will do all they can to try to persuade gays that Rauner wants to take away their rights. They’ll try to persuade voters that mega-rich people like Rauner and his friends don’t pay their fair share and are greedy by opposing a minimum wage hike. And so on. They’ll do all they can to convince people disenchanted with Quinn that Rauner is simply too scary. And then they’ll use their organizational power to get those people to the polls.
Of course, Rauner and Republicans will try to do the same. They’ve been busy spending millions on ads seeking to convince people Quinn has become a lying, incompetent political hack no better than his imprisoned former running mate, Rod Blagojevich. Clearly, Rauner’s unprecedented offer to give $1 million to a South Side African-American credit union could help him get to that 20 percent city mark.
The Republican’s staff and party are scrambling like prairie chickens to build a get-out-the-vote apparatus rusted from years of neglect.
Rauner might have momentum and more money, but voting trends and ballot questions favor Quinn. This governor’s race isn’t remotely ready to call.
Madeleine Doubek is chief operating officer for Reboot Illinois.