After weeks of losing ground to Bruce Rauner, Democratic Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is three points ahead of his Republican rival in a new poll released Thursday by the Democratic Governors Association.
It's the first time the embattled incumbent has led Rauner in any publicly released poll since last year, reports the Chicago Sun-Times, which last month spread word of an internal Quinn-commissioned survey showing the governor trailing Rauner in a close match-up.
The survey of 605 potential voters, done Sept. 4-7 by the Global Strategy Group on behalf of the DGA, has Quinn with 43 percent of the vote and Rauner with 40 percent. The Libertarian Party candidate Chad Grimm has 5 percent.
It revealed that Rauner's negative ratings have risen 20 points among Democrats and 13 points among Independents while his positive ratings have flatlined.
These numbers signal a possible sea change in the court of public opinion. Dogged by low approval ratings, not to mention two corruption-related investigations into his botched anti-violence program and improper patronage hiring inside the Department of Transportation, Quinn has struggled to combat Rauner's relentless attacks and growing popularity among government-fatigued Illinoisans responsive to a campaign to "Shake Up Springfield."
But Rauner, prone to foot-in-mouth disease, has stumbled in recent days. Last week the multi-millionaire venture capitalist confessed to belonging to an elite wine-of-the-month club where membership costs $140,000 and also copped to once proposing the controversial idea of slashing the state's minimum wage entirely. In the past he had argued that a full-scale wipe-out of living wages for low-income workers would serve to keep fiscally struggling Illinois "competitive."
Leveraging the income inequality issue, which is trending across America as the wealth gap widens, Team Quinn has counter-attacked with a media blitz casting Rauner as out of touch with the average voter.
On Tuesday, the two sparred during a testy non-debate debate at the Chicago Tribune, where Rauner sniped: "The only difference between Pat Quinn and Rod Blagojevich is the hair." But Quinn, in bulldog mode, shot back at his tall-and-refined opponent with unexpected verve, taking swipes at Rauner's checkered corporate history and for "clouting" his daughter into the selective-enrollment Chicago high school Walter Payton Prep. (Whatever Quinn's re-election team said in those passed notes must have worked.)
Making another trip to support Rauner, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the leader of the Republican Governors Association, surfaced in Springfield Wednesday as Rauner called upon Quinn to cut off ties with his former Chief of Staff-turned-lobbyist Jack Lavin, whose emails were subpoenaed as part of a probe into improper hiring practices at the Illinois Department of Transportation.
"He speaks his mind. He tells people exactly the way he would handle things if confronted with similar circumstances, and he makes sure he’s holding Gov. Quinn to account," Christie told reporters.
Next week ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will headline a pro-Rauner fundraiser in Chicago Sept. 18.
As Republican A-listers, and gobs of outside money, coalesce around Rauner, it remains to be seen whether the blunt-speaking businessman will regain any lost momentum in this blue state and succeed in his efforts to tip the election outside the Democrat-controlled Windy City come Nov. 4.
If Quinn wants to turn this victory into a winning streak, he'll need to push even harder on the wealth theme. The trouble for Team Rauner is their guy happens to be giving Quinn a lot of negative material to use against the self-styled Winnetka reformer.