Rauner to Air Nearly 15-Minute Ad of Rival, Blagojevich on Wiretap

The ads featuring billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker and Blagojevich are a highly unusual and expensive pre-emptive strike by Rauner, who's considered the most vulnerable GOP governor seeking re-election

This weekend, throughout the state, Gov. Bruce Rauner's campaign is airing an unusually long 14-minute ad that will play the entire FBI recorded conversation between former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Democratic candidate for Governor JB Pritzker.

"The people of Illinois need to know the truth," Rauner said, adding the conversation will "show how pathetic" Prtizker's response has been about his relationship to the disgraced former governor. Rauner said Pritzker's defense is "I didn't go to jail." 

In 2008, a month before his arrest, Blagojevich spoke to Prtizker and other politicians about the open Obama senate seat.

Pritzker was not interested in the senate opening but mentioned he might be interested in becoming state treasurer. After that phone call, Pritzker was interviewed by the FBI but was never accused of any wrongdoing. 

"When I think about what must have been wrong with him at the time, he had to be so self-centered and so self-focused," Pritzker said of Blagojevich. 

In reaction to the new ad, Pritzker's press spokesman said: "Hundreds of people spoke to the governor at the time and whether Bruce Rauner chooses to buy a 60 second or even a 14 minute negative ad, the fact is J.B. Pritzker was accused of no wrongdoing. Bruce Rauner is desperately trying to interfere in the Democratic primary because he can't defend his failed record and because he doesn't want to face JB Pritzker in November."

Rauner's campaign said the move is a response to Pritzker's statements that an ad released last week was selectively edited. That ad included a portion of audio in which Blagojevich and Pritzker discuss the possibility of Blagojevich appointing Pritzker attorney general. Pritzker is heard saying, "That's a deal I would take." 

"J.B. Pritzker is part of the corruption and cronyism that has plagued Illinois for decades," the Rauner campaign said in a statement. "The people of Illinois deserve better." 

Pritzker campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen noted that Pritzker was never accused of wrongdoing. 

Rauner's campaign didn't disclose what time or on which channels the ads would air, or how much the airtime cost. 

Blagojevich, a Chicago Democrat, was convicted of wide-ranging corruption in a 2011 trial and later sentenced to 14 years in prison. Several convictions involved his bid to trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat Barack Obama vacated to become president for campaign cash. 

Audio recordings from FBI wiretaps in late 2008 of telephones in Blagojevich's campaign office played prominently in the disgraced politician's trial, but none included conversations with Pritzker. Audio not presented at the trial is sealed under a court order but the Chicago Tribune obtained the Pritzker-Blagojevich conversations and reported them in May 2017. 

The impact of such an expensive purchase of television time for what amounts to being a mini-infomercial remains a question. A lengthy, dense setup introduces a static ad with unchanging black-and-white headshots of the participants. And while the sometimes-garbled conversation is bolstered by an on-screen transcript, the banter moves quickly and it's difficult to follow which of the political names, some now obscure a decade later, the two are referring to. 

Pritzker and Rauner, a wealthy former private equity investor, have each been sinking millions into their campaigns, setting up what could be the most expensive governor's race in U.S. history. 

In just the last three months of 2017 the race cost more than $28 million, with $9 of every $10 spent by Rauner and Pritzker, according to campaign finance disclosures.

Rauner is also facing a primary challenge from conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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