I feel uncouth in comparing the Republican primary matchup of Bruce Rauner versus Kirk Dillard to a lowbrow Adam Sandler comedy about golf.
But as God as my witness, Dillard was Shooter McGavin.
McGavin was the antagonist in the 1996 movie “Happy Gilmore” – a longtime golf insider who believed that his turn finally had come to win the PGA Tour, until an outsider entered the race, won and ruined everything for him.
“Let’s get one thing straight – this is Shooter’s tour. I’ve worked hard my whole life, paid my dues, and now it’s Shooter’s turn!”
The voters, as it turns out, felt differently. They went with Rauner, the super-wealthy Winnetka venture capitalist.
Dillard, who has been jockeying for the governor’s mansion since my fellow reporters were watching “Sesame Street,” felt a sense of entitlement that it was his turn. It’s easy to get that impression after Dillard took money from public-sector unions, knowing full well that their support would evaporate upon Rauner’s defeat.
Boasting about support from teacher’s unions and AFSCME in a Republican primary makes about as much sense to me as toasting the Queen in an Irish pub. He didn’t collect endorsements so much as he collected conservative kisses of death. The Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Retired Teachers Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and AFSCME Council 31 threw their support, and money, behind Dillard.
To Dillard’s credit, it almost worked. He closed the gap in the polls last Tuesday evening to within 2.7 percent, likely aided by lousy turnout and some Democratic crossover votes.
To Dillard’s detriment, taking money and support he knew would immediately go to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn upon his victory speech smacked of desperation that would affect the future of Illinois. Big Labor backed Dillard because he wasn’t Rauner – or as they call him, Beelzebub – and Dillard just happened to be the closest to him in the polls. No reasonable person can believe for a second that Dillard was unaware of that political reality.
That means that Dillard put personal ambition ahead of a chance to defeat an unpopular governor who has helmed a sinking ship of a state. Because this was supposed to be Shooter’s tour. He worked hard his whole life, paid his dues, and it was Shooter’s turn.
Except it wasn’t.
Dillard’s aspirations aren’t the only thing that died Tuesday evening. So did Quinn’s amazing streak of political luck.
Polls showed Attorney General Lisa Madigan would have eaten him for lunch in the primary, but she never ran. Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley entered the race, but promptly dropped out, likely upon looking at a map and concluding that there’s a whole lot of Illinois outside of Chicago.
Quinn had a challenger in Chicago anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman. Who, you say? Good question. Here’s your answer: Hardiman’s the candidate whose campaign ended 2013 with $553.80 in the bank compared to Quinn’s war chest of $4.5 million, but managed to get 28 percent of the vote.
That’s what we in the journalism business call a “protest vote.” It’s what they call in the Quinn for Illinois campaign, “uh oh.”
Quinn’s going to face Rauner, who has oodles of funds – his own and those of others – with which to campaign. And Rauner the social moderate has broken the losing mold of the GOP gubernatorial candidate conservative enough to win the primary but too conservative to win a blue-state election.
But people who underestimate Quinn’s campaign skills because of his reputation as an inept leader do so at their own peril. He’s a scrapper, and he came out swinging the morning after Rauner won with attack ads highlighting Rauner as an effete millionaire who is out of touch with the Illinois working man.
While political junkies may be watching how Quinn is positioning himself for November, I’ve been watching how his ads and rhetoric for how he’s going to present the Illinois budget this Wednesday.
Quinn was supposed to deliver the 2015 budget address last month, but Democratic lawmakers let him push it back to the week after the primary. Which of course had nothing to do with figuring out who he was going to run against in November. Heck, no.
The $64,000 question has been whether Quinn will finally take a position on whether the “temporary” 67 percent income tax increase should be allowed to start expiring Jan. 1 as scheduled. But since Rauner won Tuesday, state Democratic leadership has gone all-in on the class warfare angle.
Quinn’s words and ads aside, House Speaker Michael Madigan is asking for a 3 percent “millionaire tax,” and a Senate committee advanced a bill to make the state minimum wage, already the Midwest’s highest, the nation’s highest. And of course, there’s that push to replace the flat tax with a progressive one.
In short, I think they already answered that $64,000 question. And it might be the least of Illinois taxpayers’ worries by the time Quinn finishes his Wednesday address.
Hold on to your wallets, boys and girls. As for me, I’m seriously contemplating booby-trapping mine.
• Kevin P. Craver is senior reporter for the Northwest Herald. He has won more than 70 state and national journalism awards during his 13 years with the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4618 or at email@example.com.