As Illinois' GOP gubernatorial contender Bruce Rauner focuses attention on Democratic Chicago, the state's most powerful voting bloc and one cornered by incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn, the Chicagoan who heads up the city's Republican Party—yes, it actually exists—says he thinks the wealthy Winnetka investor stands a decent chance at winning over at least some voters in a one-party town.
"If we here in Chicago get 25 percent, then we've hit our numbers," Chris Cleveland, vice chairman of the Chicago Republican Party and 43rd Ward committeeman, told Ward Room in a recent interview. "Thirty percent would be outstanding. That would really mean something. Getting 30 percent is definitely a stretch."
Ald. Michele Smith, a Democrat, oversees Ward 43, which spans the tony North Side nabes of Lincoln Park, Old Town and the Gold Coast. Cleveland, her GOP foil, is hosting uber-conservative Texas tea party Sen. Ted Cruz at a DePaul University breakfast funder on Wednesday to raise money for local Republican candidates. (Cruz, who may run for president in 2016, no doubt aims to hustle up campaign cash from well-heeled Chicago supporters while he's here.)
Meanwhile, Rauner, who's steering clear of the polarizing Cruz ahead of Election Day, isn't exactly hurting on the financial front: He raised $20.5 million last quarter, ending it with $3.5 milion cash on hand. He's poured a large chunk of that dough (which includes millions from his own deep pockets) into Windy City-centric media attacks upon the governor, specifically targeting Quinn-fatigued Democratic swing voters and independents as well as African-Americans frustrated with the status quo. (Quinn on Sunday got some welcome campaign love from President Barack Obama, who urged the largely black crowd at a South Side rally to support the party at the ballot box Nov. 4.)
"Bruce Rauner is making a very big push into black neighborhoods. He's opened some offices. He's got people on the street. He has endorsements from a number of ministers. You know, a lot of the thought leaders are starting to say, 'Hey, we've been loyal Democrats for a long time and what has it got us?'" said Cleveland.
Touting Rauner's strength in the 43rd, won by ex-Republican Gov. George Ryan in 1998, Cleveland said: "That was the No. 1 ward for him during the (March) primary. He got 68 percent of the vote. And he's got a real appeal. Because he's (fiscally conservative) on the economic issues and he's moderate on social issues, which reflects the ward."
Other potential pockets of voters who could destabilize Quinn's grip on the city—and tip the balance of the election outside of it—exist in wards 42 (Loop-centric), 32 (Lakeview/Wicker Park) and 41 (near O'Hare), which is "white, ethnic, working-class, lot of private trade union people, cops, firefighters. And those are swing voters," he declared.
Asked about Rauner's recent public missteps, which include owning up to having previously pitched the idea of eliminating the minimum wage altogether, among other bouts of foot-in-mouth-disease, Cleveland insisted voters' personal priorities supercede all the bad PR.
"The Democrats have engaged in class warfare since the days of Andrew Jackson. It's an old, old, old game that they play," he said. "But ultimately, people care about their families, their community and whether they have a job. And when people look objectively at the two candidates, and they realize that Quinn has messed up the state in embarrassing different ways over the last eight years, and that Bruce Rauner has the credentials to bring business and jobs to our different neighborhoods ... you know, they'll vote their own interest."
Cleveland's claws come out, big-time, on the subject of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who seeks a second term in 2015. His biggest competitor thus far? Political progressive Bob Fioretti, the 2nd Ward alderman. His least threatening competition? GOP spotlight-chaser William Kelly.
"He's a pretty terrible mayor. He is fully part of the Machine. He operates slush funds, particularly the TIF funds, for his own benefit," sniped Cleveland, adding: "He's just a sad, sad mayor."
Reps for Quinn and Emanuel did not immediately respond to Ward Room's request for comment.
Despite Emanuel's pro-business streak, a quality Republicans would generally like, "He is not a conservative," lamented Cleveland. "He is a man who is completely, utterly inept and unable to confront the problems that we have—and on issue after issue after issue. Jobs. Controlling spending. Doing something about pensions. Handling public safety. Having some sort of reasonable school choice programs so we can pull CPS up. He's an utter failure on all of them. I mean, that's what people used to say about Daley too. 'Oh, he's really a Republican.' Well, that was utter nonsense about him. And even he was more conservative than Rahm Emanuel."
Does Cleveland have anybody lined up to challenge Rahm on the Republican ticket?
"I don't! Do you? ... Some people have been sniffing around it but no, I don't currently have a credible candidate."