Rauner Likely to Draw Primary Opponent, Possible Third-Party Candidate as Right-Wing Backlash Heats Up

The movement to take down incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner from within his own party is gaining steam.

A coalition of conservative, anti-abortion organizations met Saturday for the second time in as many weeks to discuss a "viable Republican primary candidate" against the first-term governor, according to Paul Caprio, director of the Family-Pac political action committee.

While no formal decision was made, Caprio said the group of about 35 people planned to meet again in November "to further clarify the group's position" and likely endorse a challenger to Rauner.

"Historically, the way the pro-life, pro-family movement has operated relative to selecting and endorsing candidates for statewide office, we have always had a meeting of all of these different groups together," Caprio said.

The coalition met around this time three years ago, he continued, at which point there was a split, though not drastic, among its members in their support of a gubernatorial candidate.

The group officially endorsed then-state Sen. Kirk Dillard, though some in attendance chose instead to back state Sen. Bill Brady.

Rauner – the eventual nominee – was invited to the 2014 meeting despite his pro-abortion rights stance at the time, though he declined to attend or fill out a questionnaire to receive the organizations' support and financial backing.

While some of the organizations eventually ended up supporting Rauner in the race against the incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn, this time around, the coalition has made it clear that under no circumstances will Rauner receive their endorsement.

During its initial meeting on Oct. 9, the coalition of 20 statewide organizations voted unanimously in favor of a "Bill of Particulars" outlining the groups' stance on Rauner and in particular, his support of House Bill 40.

Signed into law on Sept. 28, HB 40 allows the state of Illinois to cover abortions for its employees and Medicaid recipients, and protects access to abortion in Illinois should the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing it be overturned.

Rauner publicly changed his stance on the issue multiple times, attempting to traverse the politically difficult decision without alienating either his GOP base or more moderate, particularly female voters ahead of his upcoming bid for re-election.

However, his choice to ultimately sign the bill into law angered conservatives, who have quickly moved to organize against him.

The coalition's "Bill of Particulars" vows that the groups will not support Rauner in next year's GOP primary or general election after he "shockingly, caved to pressure from radical abortion extremists and signed this dastardly legislation" and will only support candidates committed to repealing the law.

This marks a major departure from 2014 in which some organizations offered Rauner their qualified endorsement in solely the general election.

Now, conservative groups have not only disavowed Rauner, but are actively searching for a challenger.

One potential candidate is state Rep. Jeanne Ives, of Wheaton.

Ives said earlier this month that she was "exploring the option by having important conversations with folks around the state," and while she hasn't begun circulating nominating petitions, sources said that may change over the next week.

Ives is looking into forming an exploratory committee, sources said, adding that she would likely run if she could raise $1 million.

While Ives is among the candidates that the anti-abortion groups are considering, Caprio said there have been a few other names floated and the coalition hopes to make an official determination at its next meeting in November.

Reflecting on this year’s "unusual set of circumstances," Caprio said that there are typically three or four significant candidates in the race at the time the groups make their decision, but without any declared challengers – who would certainly face an uphill battle against an incumbent Republican governor with very deep pockets – the task of reaching a consensus has become that much more difficult.

But the groups are united in their staunch opposition to Rauner's re-election, so much so that Caprio foresees a situation in which conservatives might even "take two bites at the apple."

While the right-wing firebrand was not in attendance at Saturday's meeting, former Congressman Joe Walsh is also considering throwing his hat in the ring for governor – but only as an Independent.

In August, Walsh slammed Rauner, saying he was "done" should the governor sign a bill to effectively turn Illinois into a so-called "sanctuary state," preventing law enforcement officials from detaining individuals based solely on their immigration status.

And ever since Rauner signed that bill the following week, it appears as though Walsh – who did not immediately respond to request for comment – has been floating the idea of taking on the governor himself.

"He feels like he's going to focus his interest, in the issue of the defeat of Rauner, on the possibility of his own Independent candidacy," Caprio said of Walsh, adding that the oft-incendiary radio host is "very interested" in running.

But Walsh is leaning towards waiting until after the primary, Caprio said, to see if Rauner is able to emerge victorious even without a large swath of conservative support.

If the billionaire governor succeeds, Walsh may at that point enter the race as an Independent – drawing both votes and perhaps even the backing of Republican organizations away from the GOP governor.

"If Rauner and his millions are able to buy the election, if our candidate were not successful in the Republican primary, then I think there would be a very serious discussion of the possibility of an independent candidate," Caprio said.

But first, the organizations will gather once again in November at which point it’s "very likely that we will have a candidate," he added.

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