Now that Labor Day Weekend has come and gone, it's time for the real games to begin.
The end of summer is when election season really starts to rev up, and with Nov. 4 just two months away, political campaigns are stockpiling extra mud to sling at rivals.
Here in Illinois, Bruce Rauner found himself in the middle of a wine-soaked PR disaster, Jim Oberweis gained on Dick Durbin in polling and shady Republican operatives are making things more difficult for Bob Dold.
Quinn vs. Rauner. This was an especially rough week for Republican governor candidate Rauner, who stumbled upon his first major setbacks in an otherwise successful campaign to defeat unpopular Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn. The Winnetka multi-millionaire showed cracks in his affected Everyman facade when he admitted he paid a whopping $140,000 to join an elite wine-of-the-month club. (Not worth the money, Bruce.) Team Quinn immediately jumped on the confession, fast-tracking an amusing attack ad that leveraged the income inequality issue to max effect. "Bruce Rauner spends more on wine than Illinois households spend on everything," said the spot, quoting Philip Bump's deliciously snarky WaPo column. As if that weren't bad enough, the Sun-Times posted obscure audio from a radio interview Rauner did back in January where he copped to once supporting the inarguably awful idea of eliminating the minimum wage. The same day that story broke, fast-food workers demanding higher wages staged protests across the country with 50 protesters detained in Chicago. Further inflaming the Quinn-Rauner class wars: The venture capitalist's past remarks on the finance industry-fueled economic meltdown wherein he advised people to "get over it." Quinn sicced running mate Paul Vallas on his opponent, with Vallas telling the media he thinks Rauner's too rich to govern this state. If you want to run for office these days, your wealth can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion. Quinn wins this round.
Durbin vs. Oberweis. The Democratic U.S. senator from downstate faces a growing threat from Oberweis, the Republican dairy magnate making another play for a Washington job after three previous failed bids. A Sun-Times survey revealed the gap is narrowing between Durbin and Oberweis, with the former leading by a slight seven-point margin. Oberweis has gone negative in recent weeks, painting Durbin as a corrupt, career politician with millions in the bank. (Pot, meet kettle.) His brazen character assassination attempts must be working. He may also be riding Rauner's coattails as the aspiring governor woos government-fatigued voters. Playing the tea party card, Team Durbin responded: "Our internal numbers show a larger gap; however, as we approach Election Day we're going to keep working hard to share Sen. Durbin's message of a fair shot for everyday Illinoisans. Despite the flaws of the Sun-Times poll, one thing is clear: perennial candidate Jim Oberweis is significantly behind in the polls because of his radical tea party agenda." All told, this increasingly nasty race boils down to one defining debate: "Pepsi vs. Coke."
Schneider vs. Dold: Illinois' 10th congressional district is catnip for the national Republican and Democratic parties. Both sides are pouring tons of resources into the race between U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider and his GOP challenger Bob Dold, who's fighting to win back his north-suburban seat. "The 10th Congressional District is full of Republicans who consider themselves moderates," wrote the Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet this week. "While moderate Republicans are a vanishing breed in Congress, the 10th is stocked with GOP moderates who support abortion rights and do not relate to the tea party faction of the GOP party at all." As such, the Schneider campaign released an ad Tuesday where the congressman proudly declared he's a Democrat and said he loathes "tea party obstruction"—a veiled smear of Dold. Meanwhile, the candidate dropped a spot of his own, focusing on economic over social issues and making no mention of his party affiliation. According to Sweet, "His campaign decided a reminder that Dold was Republican congressman is not useful at this point." In response to Schneider's latest commercial, Team Dold had this to say: "After voting with Nancy Pelosi 90 percent of the time, Congressman Schneider’s own ad reminds everyone how enthusiastically he embraces blind partisanship and rejects the independent-minded leadership the 10th District enjoyed under Mark Kirk and Bob Dold." The New Prosperity Foundation—a fundraising group headed up by Republican donor Ron Gidwitz —went nastier, issued a radio ad falsely asserting that Schneider failed to disclose his 2013 tax returns and dubbing him "one of the richest members of Congress." It's being yanked off the airwaves as we speak.