The Slatest

Illinois Governor Spent $130 Per Vote, and That Was the Easy Part

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 speaks to members of the media in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after a hearing on February 26, 2018. Alex Wong/Getty Images

About $130. That’s what Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner spent for each of the roughly 361,000 votes he received on Tuesday, as he barely held off an insurgent challenger in the Republican primary. Comparatively speaking, billionaire J.B. Pritzker got a bargain on the Democratic side of things. Pritzker spent a mere $60 or so for each of the roughly 574,000 votes he got in his primary.

The two campaigns combined to spend more than $80 million in the primary alone—Rauner $46.4 million, Pritzker $34.3 million—and by the time November rolls around, the race has a legitimate shot of topping the most expensive gubernatorial contest to date: California’s 2010 match-up between Jerry Brown and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman. Total spending in that one reached $280 million, roughly half of which came from Whitman’s personal bank account.

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Pritzker is an heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune and is worth an estimated $3.5 billion, roughly comparable to Whitman. He seems to share her spend-it-all approach to campaigning, having already given roughly $70 million to his campaign. Asked how much he’d be willing to spend to win in November, he replied, “whatever it is, I would say Illinois is worth it.” Meanwhile, Rauner, a former equity investor worth a meager half-billion-dollars or so, has given his campaign nearly $58 million of his own cash. Unlike Pritzker, who is completely self-funding, Rauner is also happily taking donations from his rich friends, who have given him $45 million so far, roughly half of which came from a single Republican billionaire.

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By state law, there is no limit to what individual donors can give since the candidates are technically self-funding, having both exceeded the quaint $250,000 threshold. There is no way of knowing just how big the two campaign war chests will grow between now and November. But insiders were predicting this would be a $300 million race as far back as last summer—and that was before the two frontrunners had to spend more than anyone expected to secure their nominations.

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One factor might be how much Rauner actually wants to win this, and whether he’s willing to sink a quarter of his personal fortune into the race if the trendlines are against him. His unimpressive showing against a relatively unknown opponent on Tuesday demonstrated how much hostility he’s incurred on the Republican side—he was pilloried by both National Review and Laura Ingraham—and the path won’t get any easier in a general election where Democrats outnumber Republicans.

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As Will Jordan, a research associate at the Global Strategy Group, points out, with a few votes still left to be counted, Democratic turnout this year was nearing a high-water mark for the past two decades. It was also nearly triple what it was in 2014, when then-Gov. Pat Quinn coasted to the nomination, and up nearly 40 percent from 2010, when Quinn won in a squeaker in the last Democratic primary without an incumbent before this one. Compare that to the GOP side of things, where turnout this year was down 14 percent from four years ago, when Rauner won a competitive four-man race, and down about 8 percent from 2010, when the top five GOP finishers were all within six points of one another.

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This year’s turnout numbers, meanwhile, line up with what we’ve been seeing across the country in special elections and primaries since Trump’s been in office: Democrats are turning out at levels closer to how they have in presidential years than Republicans have been. If that enthusiasm gap continues into the fall, Democrats should be on pace for major gains, and Rauner could be forced to try and blunt the momentum with even more spending.

The reward for spending all that money? An intractable pension problem, and a four-year battle with the immensely powerful speaker of the Illinois House, Mike Madigan. May the best man win.

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