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Businessman wins nomination for Illinois governor

March 19, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) — A venture capitalist won the Republican primary Tuesday in his bid for Illinois governor, as voters embraced a first campaign by a multimillionaire who flooded the airwaves with vows to run the Democratic-leaning state like a business and curb the influence of government unions.

With Republicans eyeing what they view as their best shot in years to win the top job in President Barack Obama’s home state, businessman Bruce Rauner defeated three longtime state lawmakers — including the current state treasurer in the party primary. He advances to a November election matchup with Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who easily won his party’s nomination for a second full term.

Between Quinn and predecessor Rod Blagojevich, now imprisoned for corruption, Democrats have held the Illinois governorship since 2003. But Rauner could present a serious threat, partly due to a massive campaign bank account that already includes more than $6 million of his own money.

The Illinois vote was seen as a test of the strength of unions, a core part of the Democratic base that has faced declining membership and diminishing political power. Republicans hope that a November victory by Rauner, a critic of unions representing government workers, would mark a shift toward conservatism in a state where Democrats have long controlled most statewide offices and the Legislature.

Organized labor battled back out of concern that Rauner could seek to weaken unions in the same way Republican governors have done in other states across the Midwest.

Rauner says he would model his governorship after those of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Both significantly rolled back union power in what they said were necessary steps to attract business and reduce costs. Rauner defeated state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford in the primary.

Quinn is seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbent governors because of his push to fix Illinois’ finances by overhauling the heavily underwater public pension systems, which earned him the unions’ ire.

“The voters are going to face a stark choice in November, a major decision about the future of our state,” Rauner said in his victory speech. “It’s a choice between failure of the past and a new day.”

Union leaders, meanwhile, sought Rauner’s defeat by encouraging members to request Republican ballots and vote for Dillard, who picked up several union endorsements.

Rauner had 40 percent of the vote in the Republican primary, edging out Dillard with 37.5 percent, with the other two candidates splitting the rest of the vote.

The typically left-leaning unions spent more than $6 million on the Republican primary, both in anti-Rauner and pro-Dillard ads. Rauner raised more than $14 million, including $6 million of his own money — more than any candidate seeking a gubernatorial nomination in state history.

Rauner warned supporters about the unions’ efforts, saying Quinn’s “allies” were trying to hijack the election. He said limits on the number of terms a state legislator could serve would help break the labor-Democratic alliance.

Quinn’s first re-election ad of the season — focusing on Rauner’s evolving stance on raising the minimum wage — hit the airwaves Tuesday evening. Quinn has called for increasing the state’s rate from $8.25 to at least $10 an hour. Rauner had initially called for a cut and later said he’d raise it under certain circumstances.

“I’m here to fight for an economy that works for everyone,” Quinn said Tuesday night. “Not just the billionaires, but for everyone.”

Quinn’s administration has avoided major scandals — unlike his two predecessors who went to prison.

Quinn, who was Blagojevich’s lieutenant governor and assumed the office after he was booted amid a corruption scandal, easily defeated a lesser-known primary challenger, Tio Hardiman, in his bid for a second full term.

Republican primary voters also chose state Sen. Jim Oberweis, a dairy magnate, to run in November against U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat. Oberweis, who defeated businessman and West Point graduate Doug Truax in the primary, has lost five of his six bids for public office.


Associated Press writers Sara Burnett and Sophia Tareen in Chicago contributed to this report.

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