Two Democratic candidates for governor accused Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday of using “racist” tactics by appealing to the anti-Chicago sentiments of Downstate voters.

Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) made their remarks during an endorsement session held by the Cook County Democratic Party.

Pawar, the only non-white announced candidate, hit the Republican governor the hardest.

“He goes to Downstate majority poor white communities, and he tells those communities that the reason they don’t get their fair share of investment for schools or for infrastructure or for jobs is because of those people in Chicago and Cook County, and we know who ‘those people’ are,” Pawar said.

OPINION

“It’s code. He calls our schools ‘prisons.’ He refers to Chicago public school teachers as virtually illiterate. We know what he’s saying. He is betting and preying on people’s economic fears and anxieties in majority poor white communities and telling them that they don’t get their fair share because of ‘those people,’” he continued.

“I don’t know what you call that, but I call that racist,” Pawar said.

Earlier, Biss was asked about Rauner’s regional divide-and-conquer strategy, particularly in relation to education funding legislation that the governor has called a “Chicago bailout.”

“We’ve seen these vicious geographical fights set up in Illinois for a lot of decades, and you know as well as I do that there is ugly, ugly racist overtones to what happens when politicians go Downstate and demagogue about the city of Chicago,” Biss said. “We know that, and Bruce Rauner is better at that than anybody.”

Pawar and Biss have each faced difficulty breaking into the media conversation about the governor’s race with so much attention on the Democratic side going to the campaigns of billionaire J.B. Pritzker and millionaire Chris Kennedy.

But I don’t think either of them was playing the race card to grab a headline. In fact, Pawar used his attack on Rauner to set up an argument that Democrats need a better strategy to beat him than getting behind the candidate with the most money or fame — meaning Pritzker or Kennedy.

I’ve been trying to call out Rauner for how he tries to pit Downstate against Chicago since I first saw him on the campaign trail in early 2014. It’s definitely his strategy.

But the longer I’m at this job I’ve found it best to save accusations of racism for the most blatant racists, and I’m not putting Rauner in that category.

It also should be remembered Rauner went in front of the Chicago City Council right after he was elected and told Chicagoans to our faces he was never going to give us a “bailout,” at least not without getting some toys in return.

Cook County Democrats referred to Thursday’s meeting as “pre-slating.” The traditional slating session at which the party will endorse candidates for the March 2018 primary is scheduled for August.

Pritzker, who is expected to get the party’s backing, said as little as possible that might be regarded as controversial during his own appearance.

As expected, Kennedy made a plea for Democrats to make no party endorsement before the primary, but he did so in the mildest language. He has little choice given that he has almost no support from the committeemen who will make the endorsement decision.

Most of the rest of the state Democratic ticket already appears set, with incumbents in place — with one notable exception.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White sent his longtime ally, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), to tell the committeemen he has yet to make a final decision on whether he will run again.

In a statement read by Burnett, White reminded everyone he announced two years ago at the Illinois State Fair that this would be his last term, but said many have asked him to reconsider and that he is still weighing his options.