Incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner is running for a second term using many of the same rallying cries that sent him to Springfield the first time around.
The Winnetka native’s announcement included another call for lower property taxes and term limits – two of the issues he focused on in his 2014 campaign, which was his first run for public office after a career in private equity.
From the past four years, he counts education funding and criminal justice reform, as well as pro-business measures and his veto of an income tax hike (that eventually took effect), among his successes.
But this time around may prove more difficult, as an August NBC News/Marist poll showed that his Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker leads him by 16 points in a race that several political forecasters have predicted "leans Democratic."
Part of Rauner’s challenge will be winning back support from his conservative base after a bruising GOP primary. Entering office as a self-proclaimed moderate with “no social agenda,” Rauner signed two measures in particular over the past year that angered right-wing Republicans.
The first was a bill to prevent law enforcement officials from detaining individuals based solely on their immigration status – which some said effectively turned Illinois into a “sanctuary state,” while the second was a measure that allows the state to cover abortions for its employees and Medicaid recipients, and will also ensure that abortion remains legal in Illinois should the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision be overturned.
In signing those bills, Rauner drew both the ire of conservative Republicans and an opponent in the GOP primary. State Rep. Jeanne Ives jumped into the race and though he had far more funding and name recognition, Rauner won by a razor-thin 3 point margin – coming stunningly close to being ousted by members of his own party.
Ives has yet to signal her support for Rauner in the general election, going so far as to say after the primary that she “has no reason to believe or trust anything he says.”
Another challenge Rauner faces will be overcoming his role in Illinois’ historic budget impasse that began in 2015 and lasted more than two years, devastating schools and social service agencies statewide and ballooning Illinois’ bill backlog to more than $14 billion.
The impasse began in July 2015 when Rauner made elements of his so-called “Turnaround Agenda” – like lawmaker term limits and worker’s compensation reform, among others – a condition for his signature on a state budget deal, while the Democrat-controlled legislature pushed for an increase to the state income tax to replace the previous increase that had expired at the beginning of 2015. The impasse ended in July 2017 when lawmakers overrode Rauner’s veto of their budget package, which included the tax increase.
Another element of the negotiations – which Rauner has since noted as a signature achievement in various campaign ads – was moving Illinois to an “evidence-based model” of education funding, taking into account each K-12 district’s individual needs, as well as its local revenue sources, when appropriating state aid – prioritizing districts that are furthest from being fully-funded.
A controversial element of the deal that Rauner championed was a tuition tax credit program that provides state aid to students who attend private schools. Another issue Rauner is highlighting this time around is criminal justice reform, touting that he’s signed more than two-dozen bipartisan bills to rehabilitate offenders, plus bail and sentencing reforms, among others.
Painting himself as a pro-business reformer in opposition to unions, Rauner racked up a victory in his crusade against collective bargaining when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public sector labor unions cannot force non-member employees to pay the union fees to represent them.
Rauner has tied that decision into what is arguably his biggest talking point – and what he hopes will resonate with voters – which is his opposition to what he has called Illinois' “broken political system” controlled by machine corruption.
While Rauner may have a tough re-election battle, he’s got plenty of cash in his campaign coffers, most of which comes from his own wallet. Rauner dumped $50 million into his campaign fund in December 2016, which was the single largest political donation in Illinois history – eclipsing the previous record Rauner himself set when he donated $10 million to his campaign in 2014.
In all, Rauner has donated more than $95 million to his own efforts – a seemingly necessary cost for what’s shaping up to be the most expensive gubernatorial race in U.S. history against one of the wealthiest men in Illinois, Democrat J.B. Pritzker.