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Miller: Will Dems spend money to derail Rauner in GOP primary?

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(AP photo)
Bruce Rauner

Bruce Rauner has closer ties to top Democrats in this state and nation than many Democrats do, is pro-choice and is reluctant to say where he stands on gay marriage, so you wouldn’t think he’d have much chance at winning a Republican primary for governor.

But the retired multimillionaire is running a pretty smart campaign and raising tons more money than his opponents, so nobody can really count him out.

Bill Brady told the Chicago Sun-Times he’d raised a mere $75,000 this past quarter, which ended Sept. 30.

The Chicago Tribune reported that state Sen. Kirk Dillard had raised just $239,000 in large contributions during the third quarter, but he’s still carrying quite a lot of debt from his failed 2010 governor’s race. Treasurer Dan Rutherford said he raised $333,000 and has $1.2 million in the bank. Rauner, on the other hand, raised over a $1 million during the quarter and about $3 million since he kicked off his campaign.

And he has so much personal wealth that he could spend lots, lots more.

More than a few Democrats, and even some Republicans wary of Rauner, are saying that somebody else with deep pockets may need to step in to snuff out Rauner’s campaign before he makes it out of the primary. And Democratic-affiliated groups appear to be the most logical source of that cash.

As polling has shown, Rauner has some serious negative issues in a GOP primary that might be OK with voters in a general election.

His close affiliation to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for instance, has killer negative numbers among Republicans, but it won’t exactly be easy for Gov. Pat Quinn to use that against the guy in the general election.

Rauner and his wife have supported Democratic candidates, which ain’t good in a Republican contest, but a nice positive once the primary is over.

As noted above, Rauner is pro-choice and won’t say where he stands on gay marriage, and he has left himself more than enough wiggle room to pretty easily pivot toward support of gay marriage once the GOP primary is over.

In other words, if Rauner wins the primary, he could be a nightmare for the Democratic Party.

Rauner is strongly anti-union and has all but vowed to break the public employee unions, so it seems only logical that those unions, or the Democratic Governors Association, and/or someone else would decide that beating Rauner in a primary would be way more cost efficient than letting him out of that tight ideological Republican pen and into the wide-open spaces of a general election.

This sort of thing never has been done statewide before, but it was pulled off last year by Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and the national Senate committee when they spent a combined $1.7 million in the Republican primary to help nominate the far-right tea partier Todd Akin, who then went on to self-immolate in the fall campaign. The Democrats spent more money on Akin’s behalf than Akin spent on his own campaign.

So, could it happen here?

Well, nobody’s talking yet, but it sure looks like a good investment, particularly for the public employee unions. Rauner has talked openly of shutting down the state government in order to bring AFSCME to its knees. His pension reform ideas include tossing out the defined benefit program and switching to a defined contribution. He opposes teacher tenure, the right of teachers to strike, and on and on and on. He also favors “right to work,” which all of labor hates.

And Gov. Quinn would probably prefer it as well. The wealthy Rauner could wind up spending a king’s ransom in the general election. He’s also close enough to Mayor Emanuel to make Quinn more than a little nervous.

So, spending a few million dollars before next March to expose Rauner’s more liberal Democratic side to Republican primary voters would be a whole lot cheaper than the tens of millions it could cost to defend the slot in the November general election.

It’s not that Quinn would get off easy with any of the other three Republicans. And it’s not that Rauner would be a slam-dunk winner, either.

Quinn could use the playbook that Obama used against his wealthy GOP opponent last year (a playbook that Obama borrowed from Quinn’s own 2010 race against Brady).

But Rauner appears to pose the biggest risk to the Democrats because of his moderate stances on social issues, his Chicago ties and, most of all, his money.

• Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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