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Marin: Five unknowns in race for governor

Bruce Rauner venture capitalist is Republican candidate for governor Illinois.  |  M. Spencer Green/AP

Bruce Rauner, a venture capitalist, is a Republican candidate for governor of Illinois. | M. Spencer Green/AP

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Updated: February 20, 2014 6:43AM

Bruce Rauner, the mega-rich venture capitalist, is widely assumed by many politicos to be the front-runner in the upcoming four-way Republican primary for governor.

And there are reasons for that.

Money is the main one.

He has more than any candidate we’ve ever seen run for the office, vastly more than all of his opponents combined, and he’s spending it like mad on television advertising, consultants and staff.

A We Ask America automated poll of likely Republican primary voters showed him gaining points. . . . Rauner now with 34 percent over his nearest rival, Sen. Bill Brady with 17 percent. However, “undecided” came in the true second with 25 percent.

The unknowns in this March 18 primary, like most primaries, abound with a full two months to go. And realize that this is Illinois, after all, where anything can happen. And will.

So here are a few of the unknowns:

One: Uncertainties of polling

“Likely voters in primaries are notoriously hard to poll,” says David Yepsen of the Paul Simon Policy Institute. “The electorate is so small . . . and the number of ‘undecideds’’ tells you how soft and squishy this is.”

Two: Political experience,
pro and con

Three of the four GOP contenders, state senators Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard and state treasurer Dan Rutherford, have been statewide candidates before and have established electoral bases. Voters have said “yes” to them before, and that could bode well for them. Or poorly. Because Rauner, a newcomer, looks different from the pack.

Three: Power of
media — yea or nay?

In Rauner’s case, where he is the only candidate thus far to launch a media campaign, it can be argued his ads have moved his numbers and raised his recognition. But in a DVR world, where plenty of people zap their commercials, mainstream media’s reach may be overestimated.

Moreover, as pollster Mike McKeon points out, there is serious evidence that a dedicated believer-base ignores them. McKeon points to September’s Colorado recall election of pro-gun control lawmakers where millions of dollars were poured into ads defending them and they lost anyway.

Four: Debates

As Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will testify, debates can doom you today and propel you tomorrow.

There are at least five major debates in which all four GOP candidates will go head to head, a number of them televised. It is always a test — never a perfect one — but a test of skill, timing, believability ... and pure luck.

Five: Voter anger
vs. voter disinterest

While Paul Green, who runs Roosevelt University’s Institute for Politics, believes the normal low 750,000 GOP voter primary turnout will be amped up to a million this time around, David Yepsen is not so sure. Since I respect them both enormously, I’m torn.

But Yepsen’s argument feels closer to what I’m hearing than Green’s — a fury expressed by citizens who tell me they hate politics so much, they’re tuning out.

While I hope that’s not true, I don’t discount it.

Not in Illinois.

Where all things are possible.


Twitter: @CarolMarin

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