The Slatest

Illinois Governor and Billionaire Challenger Will Now Face Off in Insanely Expensive Election

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 26:  Governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner speaks to members of the media in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after a hearing on February 26, 2018 in Washington, DC. The court is hearing the case, Janus v. AFSCME, to determine whether states violate their employees' First Amendment rights to require them to join public sector unions which they may not want to associate with.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Gov. Bruce Rauner survived an uncomfortably tight GOP primary on Tuesday. Alex Wong/Getty Images

How much is money worth in a primary race driven by ideological purity? A lot, it turns out. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrat J.B. Pritzker—a multimillionaire and a billionaire, respectively—survived challenges from insurgents who attempted to outflank the frontrunners by appealing to their parties’ hardliners.

Rauner held off state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a conservative firebrand who tried her best to replicate Donald Trump’s campaign formula of bigotry and anger. With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Rauner was up four points on Ives, 42 percent to 38.

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Ives ran far to Rauner’s right on social issues, capitalizing on some of the moderate positions Rauner had taken in order to win the governor’s mansion four years ago in this heavily Democratic state. She denounced marriage equality and transgender rights. She did her best to seize on Rauner’s pro-choice policies, specifically his signing of a 2017 bill that provided coverage for abortion care in state-funded health insurance. By the end, she had picked up endorsements from the likes of National Review, which said Rauner had “forfeited any claim on his party’s nod,” and Laura Ingraham who called Rauner “a DISASTER.” Ives also found herself a benefactor in conservative megadonor Richard Uihlein, who gave her $2.5 million, which was enough to get her message out. (Under state law, there was no limit to what individual donors could give because other candidates in the race were self-funding.) The Democratic Governors Association, sensing an opportunity, also got involved. The group aired ads attacking Ives for being “too conservative,” but did so in way that was clearly designed to boost her standing among Republican primary voters. None of that was enough to defeat Rauner, who had the advantages of incumbency, and $50 million of his own money. Still, this race was far closer than anyone expected it to be only a few weeks ago, and doesn’t bode well for Rauner in what is expected to be a very difficult general election.

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On the Democratic side, Pritzker had a far easier go of things, running against two candidates who helped split the vote. Pritzker outpaced Daniel Biss, a state senator who courted the Bernie Sanders wing of the party, and Chris Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy, who did his best to make inroads with African American communities. With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Pritzker had 46 percent, Biss 26, and Kennedy 24.

Biss’ sometimes-moderate voting record kept him from fully capturing the imagination of the left, even as he won an endorsement of Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution. Kennedy never really lived up to the political expectations of his family name. Together, the two appeared to split the anti-Pritzker vote. Still, Pritzker wasn’t taking any chances. The hotel scion, who is an heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune and worth an estimated $3.5 billion, spent a staggering $70 million in the primary, which could work out to more than $100 per vote. He also convinced most of the Democratic establishment to back him, including Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth. All that helped him overcome a sizable blemish on his record: FBI wiretaps on which he talks to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2008 about how Blagojevich might fill Obama’s old Senate seat‚ and about the possibility of appointing Pritzker as state treasurer if the opportunity were to arise.

Rauner and Pritzker will now face off in a general election where spending from the two could potentially top a quarter-billion dollars. Asked this past weekend how much he’d be willing to spend, Pritzker, who is self-funding his campaign, replied, “whatever it is, I would say Illinois is worth it.”

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