Signs of a last-minute surge for state Rep. Jeanne Ives in the Republican gubernatorial primary has groups from all over the country jumping into the fray, bringing the one-time longshot within striking distance of an incumbent just four days before the election.
Labeled the worst governor in America by the National Review in December, Gov. Bruce Rauner and his $56 million campaign war had ignored his only primary challenger until recently. Despite trailing the sitting governor by comfortable double digits in earlier polls, her campaign's internal poll shows Ives is now within 7 percentage points.
But conservatives aren’t the only ones with a stake in the GOP race. The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) launched two new TV ads this week: one blasting Rauner’s “failed leadership” and the other labeling Ives as “too conservative for Illinois.”
Despite the surface appearance of being an attack on Ives’ positions, however, the DGA ad stops short of any actual criticism. Instead, it lists her red-meat accolades: her position on banning abortion, an A-rating from the National Rifle Association, and her agreement with President Donald Trump on illegal immigration, all of which are sure to resonate with conservative voters upset with Rauner’s mixed record on social issues.
The ad has been described by some commentators as a “dog-whistle” for Republican voters, echoing a similar strategy from a Missouri primary in 2012. Then, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s campaign paid for an ad that painted her weakest potential Republican opponent as “too conservative,” which she later wrote in a memoir was an attempt at using “reverse psychology.”
In an email to supporters Friday, the Rauner campaign came out swinging, accusing “Washington liberals” of “trying to tamper with our election.” It also launched an ad of its own, claiming that national Democrats were supporting Ives because she had “already surrendered to Mike Madigan,” Democratic Speaker of the Illinois House.
In a statement, a DGA spokesperson said that “Jeanne Ives’ positions are just too conservative for Illinois. And Rauner’s refusal to show leadership has made Illinois worse off fiscally and economically. It’s time for both leaders to start working for Illinois families, and not themselves.”
Tim Schneider, Chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, also accused the DGA of meddling on Friday, accusing “the Pritzker-funded Democratic Governors Association” of “taking brazen steps to influence our primary election.”
But the uptick in support for Ives’ candidacy isn’t just a liberal put-on: The right-leaning magazine National Review endorsed Ives Friday morning, saying that a “thoroughly disappointing” Rauner had “forfeited any claim on his party’s nod.”
The endorsement itself, which focused primarily on Rauner’s shortcomings, referred to Ives as a “superior candidate to the governor and a solid politician in her own right.”