Just like 2008 presidential candidate John McCain, Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner wanted to choose a “superstar” to be his running mate. But just a few days into their shared campaign, the question is whether Rauner’s choice will end up going rogue on him down the road.
During a campaign stop in downstate Quincy Thursday, GOP candidate Rauner and his running mate, Wheaton City Councilwoman Evelyn Sanguinetti, were asked where they stood on key social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. The question came after about 20 minutes of generalizations about the need to fix a broken state, the duo’s likely effectiveness as political outsiders and whether Illinois was pro-business enough, issues on which they are in lock step. The social issues questions were a different story.
Sanguinetti represents something of a risk for Rauner, a first-time political candidate vying for the state’s top job. As a relative unknown herself, she fits into the Rauner campaign’s image of itself as an outsider’s crusade, riding in to Springfield to upend a broken political culture. At the same time, her life story—daughter of a 15-year-old mother in Miami who pulled herself up by the bootstraps to become a lawyer and politician, despite having multiple sclerosis—is likely to prove compelling to primary voters and could well prove a boost to the ticket.
During the campaign stop in Quincy, however, signs that the Rauner/Sanguinetti team was something of a marriage of convenience appeared. After Rauner threw the issue of same-sex marriage at the feet of voters by saying he supported a referendum on the topic, he unequivocally said he supported a woman’s right to choose. “I believe in some common sense regulations and restrictions so it's rare and safe, but I support a woman's ability to decide,” he said.
Such a position pretty much flies in the face of where his running mate stands, and potentially undercuts a key rationale behind choosing her as a running mate. Moments after Rauner’s answer, the Wheaton councilwoman clearly said she didn't agree.
"On the issue of life...I must say, my mother chose me and she had me at age 15. For this reason, I am pro-life. I also believe in marriage with the traditional definition,” Sanguinetti said.
In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, Republican John McCain and his advisers made a stark political calculation: America was hungering for a candidate that was a political outsider but who could attract voters with a compelling story and clear social conservative credentials. And while Sanguinetti may be no Sarah Palin, there’s ample indications Republican primary voters are looking for someone who can wear her opposition to issues such as same sex marriage and abortion proudly.
Yet, as McCain/Palin proved in 2008 when the one-term Alaska governor went “rogue” on the campaign trail and started speaking out about issues she cared more about than the campaign did, marriages of convenience have a tendency to suffer under the strain of a grueling campaign. Candidates who feel strongly about hot-button issues such as same-sex marriage or abortion can find it extremely difficult to stick to campaign themes question after question, month after month.
More important, perhaps, is the difficulty in asking voters to keep two ideas in their mind as they head into the voting booth: that a ticket both does and doesn't support something the voter cares deeply about, such as same sex marriage or a woman’s right to choose.
During the press conference in Quincy, Sanguinetti seemed to understand this. Immediately after answering the question, she pivoted away from the topic of social issues and back onto safer ground of tested campaign themes.
“While we’re apart on social issues, I want to bring you all back to the bigger picture,” she said, essentially changing the subject.” Illinois is broken, and only Bruce and I can fix it.”
Rauner and his team better hope she can keep up her focus in the days and weeks to come.