Still want to run for governor, Bruce?
The successful private equity exec-turned-GOP political candidate is learning the hard way that the campaign trail can be unforgiving—especially for a rookie. Everything you ever said or did in your life can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion. Just ask Bruce Rauner. And recall: Wine-Gate. Revelations that he once advocated wiping out the minimum wage. His blindsided reaction, as part-owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, to a reporter's question on the NFL domestic abuse scandal. That's not to mention the furious frenzy over Rauner's use of a corporate loophole to save big money on taxes—catnip for "gotcha!" journalists in a tough media town.
None of these sordid setbacks leave Gov. Pat Quinn off the hook. Not by a long shot. He's been in Illinois politics a long time, and his administration is tainted with corruption scandals that would otherwise dash Democrats' hopes of holding onto the governorship.
Perhaps Rauner, running on the "I"m Not Pat Quinn" platform, underestimated the opposition. The incumbent has progressed in recent polls after months of trailing behind the upstart Winnetka multi-milllionaire, who's being dangled before Quinn-fatigued Illinoisians as a new, bright, shiny object riding in on a white horse—or Harley Davidson—to rescue this cash-strapped state from the depths of economic despair.
Enter the biggest public-relations headache to hit Team Rauner in weeks.
Quinn vs. Rauner. The seedy Florida court case involving Rauner's former private equity firm, nursing home deaths and an alleged "bust out" scheme to avoid culpability for patient fatalities at a network of homes the firm invested in continues to escalate amid a complicated—and tabloid-tawdry—trial that launched Monday. As new details emerge, Rauner—who denies playing a significant role in biz decisions related to the troubled nursing home chain co-founded by his firm, GTCR—is reportedly more closely linked to the drama than previously stated. Questioned on his level of involvement, the candidate blamed Quinn for stirring the pot, snapping: "This is a destruction, a distraction from a failed governor who is creating a diversion away from his failure inside his administration. Pat Quinn is under federal criminal investigation himself, and his office." Meanwhile, in related mudslinging, Rauner targeted his rival with a powerful attack ad featuring anti-Quinn commentary by the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, who once said he'd "never appoint Pat Quinn to do anything." Those are potent words meant to undercut Quinn's influence among black voters. Quinn, striking back, said he's the one whose beliefs reflect those of Washington, citing mutual support for raising the minimum wage. On the "Look, I Have Famous Supporters!" front, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited Chicago Tuesday to tout Rauner for the umpteenth time—why don't you just move here, Chris—while feminist icon Gloria Steinem campaigned for Quinn in a major coup for the governor on the crucial women vote. He's also wrangled the star power of the Obamas, who hit the stump next month.
Karen Lewis vs. Rahm (and Corey Brooks). The Chicago Teachers Union firebrand, who may or may not be challenging nemesis Rahm Emanuel in February's mayor election, got into it with South Side pastor Corey Brooks on Twitter Friday, criticizing Brooks' shifting loyalties from Democratic candidates to GOP-ers Rauner and Jim Oberweis, who's entrenched in an uphill battle to unseat the unseatable Sen. Dick Durbin. The Sun-Times has helpfully compiled the testy exchange, and if you love a good feud, you won't be disappointed. After Brooks called her "out of touch," the politically progressive union boss shot back: "Are you serious? Out of touch? Your choice for gov had no blacks working at his firm. Why are u attacking me? U want a list?" On Wednesday, Lewis and Mayor Emanuel, her favorite punching bag, engaged in a sparring match over legalizing pot in Illinois. Emanuel, who announced Tuesday his support for decriminalizing weed possession across the state, dismissed Lewis' idea to fully legalize the drug and then tax it as "another revenue source that we out to look at." In Rahm's opinion, "you should balance the budget by promoting recreational smoking of pot."
Judy Baar Topinka vs. Sheila Simon. Like Oberweis, Simon—Quinn's erstwhile Lieutenant Governor and daughter of the legendary Paul Simon—has zero chance of prevailing at the ballot box this November. Her numbers are in the tank. The unfiltered Republican Comptroller Topinka is an indomitable force in Springfield, and boasted Teflon-like resistance to Simon's attacks on an apparent display of clout in which she pressed Quinn to check out her son's resume. Quoth We Ask America's Gregg Durham, a pollster watching the Topinka-Simon race: "While no one understands what the comptroller does, they view Judy as a competent and as someone who doesn’t fit the cookie-cutter mold of politicians. It also doesn’t help Simon that she's from 'Forgotonia.' Eighty percent of the vote lies north of her." Harsh! Simon, however, isn't going down without a fight. On Thursday, she ripped JBT for allegedly enabling the overly padded paychecks of her staffers on taxpayers' dime. Responded Topinka: "They're working for my office and doing a good job, and I think we have a very good professional staff."
Bill Enyart vs. Mike Bost. The hotly contested House race between incumbent Democrat Bill Enyart and Republican challenger Mike Bost in Illinois' 12th district is a "pure toss-up," according to The Rothenberg Report, tweaking its initial rating that favored Enyart to dubbing Nov. 4's election up in the air. Enyart, whose electoral vulnerability could be linked to constituents' negative attitudes toward Quinn, has gone on the defense with attack ads casting Bost as an unhinged loose cannon and featuring footage of the state representative's eye-popping 2012 rant against Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan. In a radio interview earlier this week, Bost attempted to do damage control, arguing: "You know, it is the job of my opponent to try to paint me as something I’m not ... What we're hearing from constituents out there is, you know what? They're tired of people going to Springfield and going to Washington, and sitting there."
OK, I just wanted another excuse to roll the tape: