Monday, January 2, 2017

The Dem lineup so far

Plenty of Illinois Dems in the mix to challenge Rauner, some of them competent, most of them a joke. 
What's he thinking?

Gov. Bruce Rauner talks to reporters on Dec. 8, 2016. So far, there no official challengers to Rauner's 2017 gubernatorial bid, but he is preparing himself, with a $50 million contribution to his re-election campaign fund in late December. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times
Tina Sfondeles
@TinaSfon | email

Two congresswomen, two state senators, a billionaire, an heir of a political dynasty, the attorney general, the state treasurer, a former governor, the senior adviser to the president and a Chicago alderman.

These men and women are among those in the mix as possible Democratic challengers to Gov. Bruce Rauner in his 2018 re-election campaign.

The Illinois Republican Party has already put targets on J.B. Pritzker, Chris Kennedy and state Sen.
Andy Manar.

Sen. Dick Durbin was considered a top-tier challenger to Rauner. He has a national fundraising base and is a constant figure in the Illinois media, as well as on national shows. After some big buzz coming out of last summer’s Democratic National Convention, Durbin opted out in November after he was re-elected to the No. 2 Democratic spot in the U.S. Senate.

There are no official challengers yet, but Rauner is preparing himself, with a $50 million contribution to his re-election campaign fund in late December, which ensures the campaign attacks can start early and last long. The governor’s contribution was the largest individual contribution in Illinois history, and the timing and amount also were unprecedented in Illinois elections.

The Illinois Republican Party said in a statement that the race will be a choice between change for the state and protecting the status quo: “2018 will present a clear choice between those like Governor Rauner who want to reform state government so it works for taxpayers, and those who will protect the status quo that only benefits political insiders and special interests,” spokesman Steven Yaffe said.

A veteran Democratic strategist said a strong Rauner challenger must have no ties to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan — whom Rauner’s Republicans spent millions to tarnish in legislative races — along with the capability of raising lots of campaign cash.

Others say candidates also need some national recognition.

“I would say that you really need to have the ability to build a coalition, a statewide coalition of individuals who really care about the state and the direction that it’s going in. And I think that coupled with a real message I think that resonates with the electorate. And obviously, the ability to raise the necessary resources, both within the state and also whatever support or outreach they have nationally,” said Hanah Jubeh, a consultant to Kennedy. “I think those three elements are going to be kind of the secret sauce to beating Rauner.”

Besides the money factor, strategists say there is a concerted effort to find someone with the greatest chance of beating Rauner — even putting individual political aspirations aside. There is much talk of the importance of uniting behind the best candidate, strategists told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Some are considered top tier and more likely to run than others, such as Pritzker and Kennedy. Others are considered second tier and are being discussed among political pundits. Some are unlikely but still in the mix.

The prospects:

J.B. Pritzker:

J.B. Pritzker | Sun-Times file photo

The Chicago venture capitalist and billionaire is listed in Forbes as having a $3.4 billion net worth. He could be the Democrats’ answer to the vast amount of money Rauner is expected to put into his re-election campaign. Pritzker’s wealth dates back to Hyatt hotels, which was co-founded by his late father. Since then, he’s become a successful entrepreneur and investor. Pritzker ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House seat held by Jan Schakowsky. And in 2008, he served as Hillary Clinton’s national campaign co-chair in her bid for president. This year, he contributed $14 million to her campaign and related Democratic organizations, and he raised millions more to become Clinton’s top fundraiser. The Illinois Republican Party has already targeted Pritzker in robocalls made to Democratic donors, elected officials and party activists. The GOP said it will continue to highlight Pritzker’s “ties” to imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Madigan until he makes an official decision to run.

Chris Kennedy:

Chris Kennedy Jr. | Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette via AP

Kennedy, former chairman of the University of Illinois board of trustees and son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, is also considering a run, although his name has been thrown around for years without him ever actually deciding to run. At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Kennedy delivered an 11-minute address to Illinois delegates and officials, saying Rauner had turned a budget impasse into a “statewide economic crisis.” The former head of the Merchandise Mart said not one business there that relocated blamed “prevailing wage or right to work or redistricting or tort reform” — some of Rauner’s preferred reforms. “This governor’s so-called turnaround agenda is another form of misdirection, part of the narrative that government doesn’t work, so he’s going to have to privatize it,” Kennedy said.

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos:

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill. | Scott Morgan/Rockford Register Star via AP

Stacy Raker, Bustos’ campaign manager, said the congresswoman is giving “serious consideration” to a bid. Raker cited Bustos’ ability to get re-elected by a 20-point margin despite Trump winning her district. “Cheri thinks Bruce Rauner has been an absolute disaster for working families in her district and across our state, so she’s committed to making sure Democrats have a candidate who can defeat him in 2018,” Raker said in a statement. Bustos has deep roots with the Democratic establishment who knew her father, Gene Callahan, former chief of staff to then-U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon and a former aide to Paul Simon. And Durbin is a big supporter. She has traveled cross-country with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and has national fundraising expertise. She’s also the only Democrat in the Illinois Congressional Delegation outside of Chicago, except for Durbin, and could bring in votes from her district, which covers the Quad Cities, Peoria and Rockford.

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly:

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly | Chandler West/For the Sun-Times

In November, Kelly told the Sun-Times she wasn’t ruling out a bid to challenge Rauner. Kelly won her third election in November for the 2nd Congressional District seat. In 2013, she replaced the disgraced former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., and since coming to Congress, she has made curbing gun violence her central issue. Kelly was the 2010 Democratic nominee for state treasurer, a former member of the Illinois House and a former chief of staff to former Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. She lives in Matteson and has ties to downstate Illinois from her 2010 campaign and her years of living in Peoria, where she attended Bradley University. There’s also a Facebook page urging her to run, with 356 members. In 2013, the super PAC started by Michael Bloomberg put its weight behind Kelly — running TV ads in support of her and against her two competitors — because of her stance on gun control.

Valerie Jarrett:

Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett | Carolyn Kaster/AP

White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett has been mentioned by pundits as a potential Democratic candidate for mayor, senator or governor through the years. She did briefly consider replacing Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate after he won the White House in 2008. She told the Sun-Times she is not closing any doors as she starts a new chapter Jan. 20 after eight years in the White House. “I did give [the Senate] thought, and the president wisely convinced me that my time would be better spent in the White House, and am I glad he did,” she told the Sun-Times in an interview last week. Throughout this past year, Jarrett has declined to rule in – or out — a run back in Illinois, preferring, when asked, to leave her door open. In an interview with the Sun-Times, Jarrett was asked, “Would you ever run for office?” She replied, “I’ve no idea. I haven’t given it a second thought.” She said she has not focused “on the next chapter. There’s plenty of time for that. After I’ve had some rest.”

State Treasurer Michael Frerichs:

Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

Frerichs, who took office in 2015, also is considering a run. The Gifford native and former state senator now has experience in running a statewide campaign, giving him some name recognition.

State Sen. Kwame Raoul:

State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago | Seth Perlman/AP file photo

Raoul’s name is always swirling about, whether it be for governor, mayor of Chicago or the U.S. Senate. Strategists say he likes to have his name out there for future runs, but some say he still has work to do in his current role. Raoul, a lifelong South Side resident, has the seat once held by President Barack Obama. For now, Raoul has said he’s focused on criminal justice reforms and on an elected school board for Chicago. Strategists say he has little fundraising experience.

State Sen. Andy Manar:

State Sen. Andy Manar | Seth Perlman/AP file photo

The former chief of staff to Illinois Senate President John Cullerton was first elected to the state Senate in 2012 and easily won re-election in 2014. He first took office as an alderman in Bunker Hill at age 20, later serving as the city’s mayor. Over the past year, Manar has worked hard to pass a school funding reform bill, which has given him some name recognition outside of his district, and he has been a vocal critic of the governor. The state Republican Party has already added Manar to its anti-Madigan website, blaming him for being the “mastermind” behind the redistricting of legislative maps.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan:

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The attorney general has said she would not run for governor if her father remains the speaker. And in July, she said that remained a factor. She didn’t rule out a run, however. Madigan considered a run for governor in 2014 but didn’t seek the seat when it was clear her father wasn’t ready to retire. That remains to be the case as the speaker is in a full-out war with Rauner over the budget. And the speaker, at 74, has shown no signs of letting up.

Others in the mix include former Gov. Pat Quinn; state Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, who helped to raise $10 million to run anti-Rauner ads before the November election; and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who is seen by some as a strong progressive candidate who could bring out the Asian-American vote. But his name recognition likely doesn’t stretch past Chicago, pundits said.

Contributing: Lynn Sweet