As the impact of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s decision to sign a controversial abortion bill continues to reverberate, a key GOP state lawmaker has begun eyeing a possible primary race against him.
In a phone interview, state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a social and economic conservative and West Point graduate from Wheaton, said she’s concluded that Rauner “cannot be elected next year.”
“It’s his decision whether or not to run. If he does, I hope we’d put up a primary opponent against him, because I won’t be supporting him,” Ives continued.
Asked who that might be, Ives replied, “That’s an open question.” When I said that sounds like she’s interested, she answered, “I’ve not ruled it out,” noting not only Rauner’s “flip flop” on the abortion bill but also his earlier decision to sign bills boosting funding for Chicago Public Schools and directing law enforcement officials not to cooperate with federal immigration agents in many cases involving those in the country illegally.
Also being mentioned behind the scenes as a possible Rauner foe is state Sen. Kyle McCarter of Lebanon, who failed to return a call seeking comment. But Ives is particularly well connected to key conservative players with access to big campaign cash, including activist Dan Proft and leaders of the Illinois Policy Institute.
It still is far from certain that conservative anger at Rauner will either blow over or reach critical mass. But there’s no doubt the anger is real as the local party, much like the national party under Donald Trump, shows signs of splitting into insurgent and establishment wings.
“Bruce Rauner is a failed governor,” one leader of the former faction, state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, told me. “He’s lied to the people of Illinois repeatedly. . . .He’s the ultimate politician. But he’s a bad politician.”
Rauner’s spokesman was not available for comment, but allies have sent word that he’s running and hope that his signing the abortion bill, which expands Medicaid services to cover the procedure, will help in the general election in what is basically a pro-choice state.
This wouldn’t be the first time an incumbent Republican governor faced a challenge from his own party.
Former GOP Gov. Jim Edgar survived primary challenges against more conservative hopefuls, Steve Baer and Jack Roeser, and went on to win against the Democratic nominees in 1990 and 1994, respectively. But he could lean on his record as a successful Illinois secretary of state in the first contest, and his accomplishments as governor in the latter.
Rauner, in comparison, suffered through three years without a state budget until lawmakers overrode his veto of one that included an income tax hike. He’s spent tens of millions of dollars of his own money to rebuild the state GOP, but recently fired much of his senior staff and apparently failed to realize that, after promising to back Medicaid funding for abortion when he ran in 2014, he could not lightly promise to veto such a bill this year.
A primary race “is not going to be helpful,” said one longtime Rauner confidant. “But let’s see if the conservatives really do come up with a candidate. It could blow over.”