Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Can Bruce Rauner Topple Illinois' Democratic Machine?

The gubernatorial hopeful is spending millions on the GOP's grassroots ground game

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Bruce Rauner is working behind the scenes -- and spending gobs of money -- to help the GOP bust up Illinois' powerful Democratic Machine, reports Crain's Chicago Business.

    "Thanks to heavy spending by wealthy gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner—and disgust within the GOP that it let the governor's mansion slip away four years ago despite the Rod Blagojevich scandal—Illinois Republicans appear to be disciplined, organized and moving to win in a way they haven't been in decades," writes Crain's political columnist Greg Hinz.

    Sources tell Hinz that the national Republican Party, its Illinois branch and the Rauner campaign are teaming up to beat the Democrats at their own grassroots game and willing to shell out $2 million on getting absentee ballots in voters' hands ahead of the November election. That's at least eight times the amount spent to support Bill Brady in his botched bid to trounce Gov. Pat Quinn four years ago, said Hinz. Meanwhile, the GOP has unveiled 20 field offices in Chicago suburbs outside of Cook County whereas Brady, a Republican state senator, opened only three offices throughout the Land of Lincoln.

    Ripping pages from the Democrats' playbook, Team Rauner has focused on ramping up its on-the-ground operation to support not just the Winnetka businessman but the state's Republican party as a whole. That includes Rauner putting his money where his mouth is in recent weeks, contributing $1.5 million to Illinois' GOP and tens of thousands to Republicans vying for House and Senate posts this election cycle with a practical eye toward snagging a small batch of seats within the Michael Madigan-controlled General Assembly.

    Democratic operative Greg Goldner, a local power PR guy with ties to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, tells Hinz, in near-gushing language, that he thinks Rauner is "showing leadership, because he's willing to spend resources" for the party's greater benefit. Quoth Goldner: "He's creating an infrastructure that hasn't existed for a very long time on the Republican side."

    It remains to be seen whether Rauner's field strategy will bear fruit at the ballot box Nov. 4. What is clear is that with each personal investment, the veteran venture capitalist is aiming to revamp the Illinois Republican Party's dusty old business model and scale it to prosper in the long run.

    He wants to flip the state, turn Illinois red and topple Madigan in the process. That's easier said than done.