VA. AND N. J. DEMS WIN GOV SEATS, NOT GOOD NEWS FOR RAUNER
WASHINGTON — The question: After Democrats snared the governorships in Virginia and New Jersey and won down- ticket spots in those and other states, should Illinois Republicans now be more worried about re- electing Gov. Bruce Rauner?
The answer, as of Wednesday: Yes.
The Tuesday victories are the first for Democrats since President Donald Trump’s surprising election a year ago.
Why should Rauner be worried? The short story: 1. A lot of Democrats turned out in those states. The different Democratic factions united. That includes the new post- Trump Indivisibles, which is a growing movement in Illinois to old- school labor. If the big Democratic Illinois primary field for governor and attorney general jazzes up Democrats — and if they patch their primary differences after March — that’s a potent political force.
2. A lot of suburban women voted, and in Illinois these swing female voters are always, always crucial. Rauner signing a controversial abortion- related bill may earn him a primary — but that seems a risk he had to take in order to not alienate suburban women.
3. Health care coverage was an issue for voters. Rauner has not stepped up to the challenge of guaranteeing Illinoisans that they will be better off under Trumpcare — if it ever gets through Congress — than with Obamacare, which Trump is trying to undermine because he cannot get it repealed, much less replaced.
4. Rauner and his campaign are placing a big bet that voters in Illinois will focus less on Trump and more on Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, who doubles as the chair of the Illinois Democratic Party.
“Something is happening,” Democratic Illinois governor hopeful Daniel Biss said in a fundraising appeal pegged to the Virginia and New Jersey Dem wins.
Democrats flipped New Jersey, replacing unpopular GOP Gov. Chris Christie, who was term- limited, with Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive.
With Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe also term- limited, the seat stayed in Democratic hands.
Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam will move up to governor, besting former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie in a contest seen in some ways as a referendum on Trump. Northam won by almost 9 points.
The Tuesday election comes a year before the November 2018 midterms and closer to the March Illinois primary — with the biggest statewide races for governor and attorney general.
Trump never campaigned with Gillespie — he did a robo call. And though Trump in a Twitter post complained “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for,” CNN exit polls for Virginia suggest why the distancing.
About 57 percent of the Virginia respondents said they disapprove of Trump, compared to 40 percent who did.
Rauner campaign spokesman Justin Giorgio downplayed the Tuesday Democratic romp, while taking aim at Madigan.
“Illinois is a state that has very different political dynamics and realities than most states,” he said in an email. “There is no other state in the country who has someone as unpopular as Mike Madigan, and that changes the dynamics here.”
CNN exit polls showed voters cared about health insurance, and J. B. Pritzker campaign manager Anne Caprara said she found that “instructive” when it comes to the Illinois governor’s contest.
“Voters are scared their health care coverage is going to be taken away,” said Caprara, who is presiding over a campaign already making an issue of Trump and health insurance.
Democratic governor hopeful Chris Kennedy’s campaign said in an email that the Tuesday results will translate like this in Illinois, that voters are “tired of the Trump- Rauner agenda.”
Rauner has been walking on a tightrope. Not embracing Trump. Not speaking out against him. Tuesday’s election makes that balance harder to keep.
THE TUESDAY VICTORIES ARE THE FIRST FOR DEMOCRATS SINCE PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP’S SURPRISING ELECTION A YEAR AGO.
Gov. Bruce Rauner ASHLEE REZIN/ SUN- TIMES