If you enjoyed watching the 2012 presidential race/mud match, you’ll love what the next six months has in store. In one corner: Everyman public servant Pat Quinn, 65, he of the modest government salary and the 1,600-square-foot house on Chicago’s unglamorous Northwest Side. In the other: superrich businessman Bruce Rauner, 57, who made $53 million in 2012 alone and owns nine residences from Manhattan to Montana.
See any parallels? Let’s start with Mitt Romney and Bruce Rauner. Both men are Republicans with degrees from Harvard Business School. Both made fortunes in the private equity business. Romney nabbed his millions heading Bain Capital. For President Obama and his strategists, Bain proved a bottomless pit of sob stories starring Romney and his associates buying up companies, squeezing them, closing them, and leaving working stiffs minus their jobs and health insurance.
Rauner, a principal at the Chicago equity firm GTCR for more than 30 years (the R stands for Rauner), didn’t even have to wait for Quinn and the Democrats to hammer him for similarly callous doings. His Republican challengers did it before the March 18 primary. One late-in-the-game ad told the shocking tale of elderly women dying of neglect in Florida nursing homes that were managed by a company in which GTCR had invested. The nuance of whether that company still managed those homes at the time of the deaths got lost in the photos and ugly details of elder abuse.
The shambling, often indecisive Quinn may be forever doomed to lug around the nickname Governor Jell-O. But don’t forget that in the heat of a campaign, he has proved to be a fierce below-the-belt fighter—much like the normally low-key Obama. Last month, the governor didn’t even wait for the results on primary night before airing a TV commercial that portrayed Rauner as a cartoon billionaire who would deny the minimum-wage poor an additional couple of bucks an hour.
Quinn seems every bit as willing as Obama to exploit his opponent’s discomfort with trying to seem like a regular guy. Granted, Rauner appears more at ease in his skin—and in his carefully inexpensive clothes—than Romney ever did. And he hasn’t made a remark as damaging as Romney’s infamous one about the 47 percent.
But Rauner’s crack to the Sun-Times in March about being part of the “0.01 percent” came close. Expect to see Quinn make hay with that one from now until Election Day on November 4. Perhaps a hired dandy in the Loop, wearing a top hat and tails, hoisting a placard that reads “0.01 Percenters for Rauner!”—much like the Rauner-hired “Quinnochio” who hit the trail in March.
Finally, remember that in 2012, Obama won Illinois 57 to 41 percent, with 61 percent of voters telling pollsters, “Obama is more in touch with people like me.” He also trounced Romney among voters with incomes under $100,000. Only 24 percent of Illinoisans made $100,000 or more in 2012.
Let the mud match begin.
Eight Ways to Tell the Gubernatorial Candidates Apart
|Wears||Fleece vest and jeans||Men’s Wearhouse suit|
|Boasts about owning||An $18 Timex||Only one home|
|Drives||2012 Ford Edge; 2008 Ultra Classic Harley Davidson||2008 Chevy Impala|
|Has the cross-party support of||Democrats Newt Minow and James Crown (and his own wife, Diane Rauner, another Democrat)||“Too many to count” (the campaign did not provide any notable names at presstime)|
|Works with||Campaign manager Chip Englander (who ran unsuccessful gubernatorial campaigns in Wisconsin and Oklahoma)||Chief strategist Bill Hyers (who helped Bill de Blasio become mayor of New York)|
|Has season tickets to||The Bulls (13th row), the Chicago Symphony, and the Goodman Theatre||The White Sox (upper deck)|
|Models himself after||Michigan governor Rick Snyder: “A venture capitalist like me who won his first race.”||President Barack Obama: “He’s a man of conscience and fights every day for social justice.”|
|Wishes you’d forget his proposal to||Lower Illinois’s minimum wage (Rauner later said he was “flippant” and supports tying the Illinois rate to the national minimum wage, currently $7.25)||Make the temporary 2011 income tax hike permanent (to deal with the $1.6 billion revenue drop the state would face if the tax hike sunsetted on scheduled)|