Republican political pundits and even President Donald Trump have lowered expectations for their party’s performance in November. Midterm elections often swing against incumbent presidents.
But it’s unclear whether Illinois Republicans are fully prepared for the purge in Springfield. It’s going to be a bloodbath. Not only is first-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner projected to lose to Democrat J.B. Pritzker, Republican candidates for the General Assembly, from Rockford to Murphysboro, stand on increasingly rocky footing. Small but meaningful gains Republicans made to eliminate Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s supermajority in 2016 could be reversed.
Democratic voters are juiced. Pritzker’s bottomless checkbook is feeding get-out-the-vote efforts, campaign staff, candidates, mailers and foot soldiers statewide. Will the media now refer to Illinois’ Democratic Party as Pritzker’s Democratic Party, as they have Rauner’s Republican Party?
They should. It is.
On Saturday, Pritzker dumped another $20 million into his campaign fund. That fund reflects the enthusiasm and luxury of a self-funded billionaire leading in the polls. Expenses from his latest quarterly report are half substantive, half “Weekend at Bernie’s.”
Where’s the conga line?
Pritzker’s campaign funding includes more than 200 pages of lavish donations to other Democrats, office rent and consultants — and dozens of staff salaries, overnight stays, Uber rides, airline flights and loads of catering from Au Bon Pain, Wingstop, Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts; dinners at Gibson’s and Giordano’s; and tabs from the swanky Boarding House and late-night Tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash. The report reads like an after-hours party and perhaps it is. Shall we zoom to Nov. 6 and get it over with?
Rauner’s report by comparison is a disciplined documentation of paid interns, utilities, rent and a few tabs at Jimmy John’s and Portillo’s.
Womp, womp. Rauner is no pauper, but he is known for being frugal.
He’s also struggling with a wide enthusiasm gap. It’s late August and he has not managed to corral his conservative base or gin up support for his own agenda. Instead, he continues to flap against Madigan.
Rauner is still getting hammered for the state’s budget impasse while Democrats who fed it are coasting. Remember: Rauner vetoed the first budget sent to him because it was $4 billion out of balance. The next budget the House prepared in 2016 was $7 billion out of balance. And the 2017 budget that included a 32 percent income tax hike and zero spending reforms? Rauner vetoed it. The legislature overrode him.
You don’t hear enough about Rauner protecting taxpayers against a spend-happy legislature that hasn’t passed a balanced budget in more than a decade. Republican voters who felt jubilant on election night 2014 with Rauner’s victory and renewed hope that Illinois would turn itself around should prepare for a crash landing. Bring plenty of tequila.
In once-safe DuPage County, Trump’s antics and Pritzker’s money are mixing a strong anti-GOP antidote. Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, who sailed to Springfield on a strong record of fiscal conservatism, is locked in a race with a liberal Madigan-funded Democrat, Terra Costa Howard of Glen Ellyn. She also is getting support from Planned Parenthood, with whom Rauner partnered in signing House Bill 40, which expanded public funding of abortion.
The fact that Breen, and even GOP Congressman Peter Roskam of Wheaton, are struggling to retain their seats in DuPage County is a manifestation of a fading-fast Republican Party in Illinois.
Other Republican-leaning areas, including Rep. Tom Morrison’s Palatine-based district and an up-for-grabs seat in Arlington Heights, are possible flips to the Democrats. Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park, is in a tighter-than-expected race with Democrat Jake Castanza of Rockford. Prognosticators also say it’s going to be a rough ride for Republicans Jerry Lee Long of Streator and Lindsay Parkhurst of Kankakee. The GOP fought hard to wrest those seats from the Democrats and now the pendulum might swing back.
Again — anything can happen. But the campaign expenditure reports from Pritzker are revealing, not just in their indulgences but in their braggadocio. You can almost hear the pop of a Champagne cork with each entry.
Kristen McQueary is a member of the Tribune Editorial Board. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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August 20, 2018 at 02:00PM