A Wheaton Republican lawmaker is actively considering a primary challenge of Gov. Bruce Rauner, saying she doesn’t expect him to win a general election contest next year.
Three-term Rep. Jeanne Ives has been courting social conservative groups and working to get her name out in settings far beyond her west suburban district in advance of a potential exploratory committee to determine if she can line up financing to take on Rauner, a former private equity investor.
One such far-away setting for Ives was a telephone interview Friday on WJPF radio, a southern Illinois conservative talk station based in Herrin.
Asked about a potential challenge to Rauner in the March 2018 Republican primary, Ives acknowledged, “We are exploring that. We are exploring that.”
She added: “He’s got a really tough re-election bid coming up, and I don’t see him being elected in 2018.”
Ives is among the most outspoken socially conservative GOP lawmakers criticizing Rauner over his signature last month on legislation expanding taxpayer-subsidized abortions for women covered by Medicaid or state employee health insurance.
Republican lawmakers said Rauner had pledged to veto the bill in April as he sought to keep the GOP rank-and-file united against the legislature’s Democratic majority.
Ives called the abortion measure “an open-ended brand new entitlement program” for a “state that’s utterly bankrupt.”
The governor’s decision to sign the bill added to conservatives’ frustration with Rauner over other moves that included signing bills to prevent undocumented immigrants from being detained solely based on their legal status, allowing automated voter registration and making it easier for transgender people to change the sex listed on their birth certificates.
Money is a major factor, however. Ives began the month with just $8,488 in her campaign, while Rauner had $65.5 million, nearly all of it from his own pocket and billionaire businessman Ken Griffin.
Ives, however, is undeterred. “I’ll be honest with you: I honestly think Rauner could spend his entire fortune and not redeem his reputation,” she told the southern Illinois radio station.
Since the start of the month, Ives has reported adding $14,000 to her campaign account, including $10,000 from Illinois Liberty PAC, a political action committee. It’s chaired by Pat Hughes, who with talk-show host Dan Proft co-founded the Illinois Opportunity Project political advocacy group. In 2010, Hughes lost a GOP U.S. Senate primary bid and Proft lost a GOP governor bid.
The campaign fund and Proft also have ties to the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative-to-libertarian group that Rauner had given at least $500,000 to prior to becoming governor in January 2015.
The institute, Proft and related political operations previously had been allied with the administration. The institute provided key staff to the governor during an administration shake-up in the summer —though most have departed or were forced out.
Republicans said privately that Ives would need to generate financial pledges well in excess of $1 million to make a run. They noted that while she is little-known outside the suburbs now, the West Point graduate and mother of five children represents a blank slate for conservatives looking for a Rauner alternative.
They also noted that conservative businessman Richard Uihlein of Lake Forest has contributed more than $9.1 million to another Proft-affiliated political action committee since 2011, including $2 million last month. Uihlein has also given Proft’s still-active governor campaign committee $595,000. Previously, Uihlein gave Rauner $2.6 million for his 2014 run for governor.
Ives received $4,000 from Rauner’s campaign committee in June 2015, when the governor sprinkled cash to Republican lawmakers to help keep the rank-and-file unified.
Still, Ives said of her colleagues: “There’s plenty of us that are not addicted to (Rauner’s money) and have completely rejected him.”
Even so, several GOP colleagues say privately that Ives is not among the most collegial members of the General Assembly — a trait she may have acknowledged when she was asked on Downstate radio about the exodus of lawmakers that have resigned or are not seeking re-election next year.
“To many of them I say, ‘Good riddance. You know, your policies have created the problems we have right now. So, bye bye,'” she said. “Let’s find some new blood. That’s OK with me. It’s important to turn over people.”