Recently, I was talking to a friend when the subject of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner’s wealth and fondness for wine came up.
My friend, a political operative not associated with either the Rauner or Quinn campaigns, put a fine point on the troubles incumbent Pat Quinn is having connecting with the voters he needs to win in November.
“I get it,” she said. “Bruce Rauner is rich. He has nine houses and enough wine to pay off my student loans like six times over.”
“But Bruce Rauner being rich isn't a reason to vote FOR Pat Quinn. Until the Quinn campaign figures that out, until he starts talking about what he has actually accomplished and telling a clear story about himself and his vision for Illinois, this [stuff] about Rauner being rich is irrelevant.”
And there you have it: the essential problem Pat Quinn faces on his road to reelection in November.
Unfortunately, it’s also a problem the Quinn campaign doesn't seem to recognize.
In fact, Quinn seems to be placing all of his bets on one central idea: Bruce Rauner is simply too rich to be governor. It’s a classic “class warfare” strategy in reverse—instead of claiming one candidate should be forgiven for being too rich, this time it’s a candidate suggesting being rich is a sin all by itself.
You can see it in Quinn’s campaign ads, where he pushes an old lawnmower outside of his Galewood home like a guy who putters around on a Saturday afternoon tending to his grass. No wealthy landowner with paid gardeners he.
It’s there in the big splash his campaign is making around the populist push for raising the minimum wage. To make sure everyone knows he understands poor voters concerns, Quinn made it his mission to live on what a minimum wage worker earns for an entire week.
Not like his wealthy opponent, who spends more on wine than the average Illinois family spends on everything in a year.
And you can hear it in the words of Quinn’s running mate, Paul Vallas, when he says Rauner is clearly “too rich to be governor.” As if there was some kind of net-worth limit candidates can't pass and win.
Normally, I roll my eyes whenever a politician adopts a strategy based explicitly on the idea of class warfare. That’s because it’s usually a Republican candidate looking for an excuse anytime someone points out that his or her policies or positions are likely to benefit the wealthy or hurt the poor.
But from the vantage point of only a few months left before the November elections, it’s difficult to see what other strategy the Quinn campaign has up its sleeve.
And, to his detriment, it may not be enough for Quinn to win come November. Remember, this is a man who beat a much weaker opponent by only 32,000 votes last election.
More importantly, such a campaign narrative doesn't do a thing to assuage those voters who would likely vote for a Democrat but are either too angry or disappointed in Quinn’s first term to pull the lever for him.
Make no mistake—those folks are out there. They’re the ones who see Quinn as colluding with Republicans, unprincipled Democrats and moneyed interests to unconstitutionally diminish pension benefits for retired state workers and teachers who rely on their retirement plan to get them by.
Or the folks who see Quinn as being too cozy with House Speaker Mike Madigan, and booed Quinn two years ago when he showed up for Governor’s Day at this year’s Illinois State Fair.
Or those tired of hearing of a series of ongoing scandals that have befallen Pat Quinn. Let alone those who may feel, after more than a decade of Democrats in the Governor’s Mansion, its time for a change.
Claiming Bruce Rauner is too rich to be governor doesn't do a thing to help voters who may feel uncomfortable with another four years of a Quinn administration. Or are looking for a clear reason to back him on Election Day.
Yet, it’s all Quinn seems to have at the moment. A vague hope that fear of what a wealthy Republican might do once in office will be enough to win.
In a race that could easily be decided by a few thousand votes, such a strategy simply might not be enough to bring Quinn’s voter base home like he needs.