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Pritzker’s path

Monday, Mar 5, 2018

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Sources in both parties said last week that their tracking polls were showing a dip in support for Sen. Daniel Biss and a trending increase for Chris Kennedy in the Democratic primary race for governor.

That’s the most likely reason why billionaire J.B. Pritzker’s campaign began airing negative ads against Kennedy last week. Pritzker has been playing a fascinating game of “whack-a-mole” with his two opponents while Gov. Bruce Rauner has tried to make Pritzker’s task difficult.

Pritzker started as an almost complete unknown, so he spent millions to become known. And, for a while, it worked splendidly because neither Biss nor Kennedy had the money to run any ads against Pritzker, let alone on behalf of themselves.

Enter Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner’s campaign has acted as sort of a Super PAC for Biss and Kennedy, doing their dirty work for them by spending a fortune on anti-Pritzker TV ads featuring audio recordings of Pritzker’s conversations with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich caught on FBI wiretaps.

Rauner’s idea isn’t to knock Pritzker totally out of the race. Instead, by all accounts he wants Pritzker to barely win an ugly primary and then turn to the general election as a bruised and bloodied candidate who could more easily be finished off. That’s still a tall order in today’s anti-Republican national environment, but it’s all Rauner has.

With Rauner’s ads constantly bashing their candidate, the Pritzker campaign’s worst fear is that one of its Democratic opponents will catch fire.

The undecideds in this race are undecided mainly because those voters don’t like Pritzker (primarily because of Rauner’s ads) but have yet to hear a convincing “ask” by either of the other two candidates. Pritzker’s immense wealth also grates against years of the Democratic Party’s anti-billionaire orthodoxy. And his attachment to the establishment headed by House Speaker Michael Madigan naturally gives people pause, including Democrats, who don’t like the guy, either.

No matter how many times Biss and Kennedy claimed that Pritzker was trying to force them out of the race, Team Pritzker has never wanted either candidate to drop out. The fear was that opposition voters would coalesce behind whoever remained against a wounded frontrunner.

Winning a one-on-one race requires 50 percent plus one vote. In a contested, multi-candidate primary, a damaged-by-Rauner billionaire can still win with 40 percent of the vote or even less. So, this means Pritzker’s opponents had to be prevented from gaining too much ground, but not fall so far back that one or the other could consolidate support and reach 40 percent to beat him.

Kennedy was starved of financial resources by putting out the word that contributing to him was a very big no-no to the Democratic and union powers that be in this state. The effort prevented Kennedy, with his well-known family name, from moving forward in the polls.

The unknown Biss had been a distant third for most of the campaign, but then zoomed up to second place ahead of Kennedy after airing TV ads in the Chicago area. So, Pritzker hit him with negative TV ads over his support of pension reform and other issues. The ads apparently pushed Biss back down.

That left an opening for Kennedy, who reportedly started moving up. The easiest attack on Kennedy would’ve been the Democrats’ praise of the Republican Rauner. “I think Bruce Rauner is trying to do what he thinks is best for the state of Illinois,” Kennedy said in January when asked by a reporter if the Rauner campaign was, indeed, acting like some sort of super PAC on behalf of Pritzker’s challengers.

Then again, if Kennedy was hit that hard, there’s a real danger he’d be completely disqualified in Democratic voters’ minds, which would leave an opening for Biss to start surging yet again. So, the Pritzker ad focused on tuition hikes at the University of Illinois while Kennedy was chairman of the board of trustees. Just tapping the brakes rather than slamming them.

Kennedy used his latest surge to raise over $600,000 in just a few days last week, his best fundraising week ever. But that’s pocket lint to Pritzker, who can always increase the pressure on those brakes.

Expect this back and forth to continue right up until election day. Rauner will attack, forcing Pritzker to spend even more on positive ads while making sure neither of his two major opponents don’t catch a sudden tailwind. I wouldn’t want to be on that campaign.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

53 Comments
  1. - Lay Hee - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 9:21 am:

    Anecdotal evidence but I know a lot of Dem primary voters who should be in Kennedy’s wheelhouse, know nothing about the primary, but have liked Pritzker’s positive ads. They’ll be voting for him. Sometimes it’s just that simple.


  2. - Techie - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 9:23 am:

    Rich, I think your analysis is spot on.

    This is why we need something like approval voting instead of plurality voting. Plurality voting says, “vote for one of the following,” whereas approval voting says, “vote for one or more of the following.”

    This would let those who dislike Pritzker to vote for both Biss and Kennedy (or others for that matter) to ensure their least-favored choice doesn’t win.


  3. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 9:26 am:

    Sorry Rich way off. Rauner would rather run against a candidate who can’t self fund so the Democrats resources are divided. Common sense


  4. - Arsenal - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 9:29 am:

    OTOH, I wouldn’t want to be on one of the campaigns who essentially no longer control their own fate.

    I’d really like to read a more insider-account of the Biss campaign. The timing of his move fascinates me. He had his ads and a passel of impressive endorsements ready to go at the exact moment Kennedy and JB were weak. Was that just luck? And if so…was it really luck? ‘Cause now it seems like it all happened with enough time for JB to put a lid on his surge.


  5. - Arsenal - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 9:31 am:

    ==Anecdotal evidence but I know a lot of Dem primary voters who should be in Kennedy’s wheelhouse, know nothing about the primary, but have liked Pritzker’s positive ads. ==

    Yeah, from what I’ve seen (I’m young-ish and downstate), all the action is between JB and Biss.


  6. - Suburban Mom - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 9:43 am:

    I’m so puzzled by Kennedy’s ads that are all about being related to JFK. I’m sure they must connect with someone? But as a person under 60, it just feels like, “Uh, so you have no platform except that you’re related to a famous political family?”

    I mean I know he does have a platform because I read the news, but his ads seem awful. Are they working for anyone else?


  7. - Hiawatha - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 9:45 am:

    Kennedy seems to be gaining momentum. He was endorsed by the Journal Star this weekend…adding to his earlier endorsements. The question is: what will be the impact of these newspaper endorsements?


  8. - SaulGoodman - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 9:47 am:

    **I’m so puzzled by Kennedy’s ads that are all about being related to JFK. I’m sure they must connect with someone?**

    The primary reason Chris Kennedy is still viable in this race is because he’s related to JFK.


  9. - Real - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 9:48 am:

    From most of the African American dems I know myself included we are voting Pritzker.


  10. - Arsenal - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 9:48 am:

    ==The question is: what will be the impact of these newspaper endorsements?==

    Generally not, unless you sweep them and can put together an ad campaign letting everyone know you swept ‘em (see: Rauner ‘14).

    But Kennedy may have enough money to go on the air with sustained ad campaign now, and that might do the trick.


  11. - Rich Miller - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 9:50 am:

    ===Rauner would rather run against a candidate who can’t self fund===

    If Rauner really wanted to defeat Pritzker in the primary, he’d put $5 million behind that “least offensive” ad and/or on the “toilet” issue and another one on MJM.

    He’s not trying to defeat Pritzker in the primary. If he is, he’s doing a pretty poor job of it.


  12. - Peoria Citizen - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 9:52 am:

    Biss and Kennedy are BOTH better suited to rule from the IL Governor’s seat. However, Pritzker will just buy it, cuz he just wants it.


  13. - Rich Miller - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 9:54 am:

    ===Biss and Kennedy are BOTH better suited to rule===

    Even if I agreed with you, politics is not a meritocracy. You gotta live in the world not in your head.


  14. - Demoralized - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 9:54 am:

    ==Rauner would rather run against a candidate who can’t self fund==

    You assume that Rauner can buy the Governor’s mansion again. The issue isn’t money. The issue is who is the easiest to attack. And right now that’s Pritzger. He’s got a lot of baggage and that’s what Rauner needs because Rauner can’t win on his record of failure. His win won’t be because anyone likes him. It will be because they dislike the other guy more.


  15. - Amalia - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 10:00 am:

    somehow I don’t feel like this primary has kicked in for the average voter. my non political friends have zero questions about it. will they come out to vote? will they be motivated by name? If Irish names win judicial races, could that be a factor here?


  16. - Back to the Future - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 10:02 am:

    The endorsement by the Peoria Journal Star of
    Kennedy was a very strong endorsement. I read the PJ Star in college and it was a very good paper (particukarly the
    Sports Section).
    Really don’t know if the paper still has the punch in Peoria
    it used to have.


  17. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 10:26 am:

    –I’m so puzzled by Kennedy’s ads that are all about being related to JFK. –

    It is his unique selling point, something he can claim that no one else can. Long tradition in American politics of famous family brands.

    Without that, he’s a former chair of the U of I board (which he never would have been, if his name was Schwartz). His family name is the only reason he’s in the race.

    It may prove insufficient to win, but it’s his bread-and-butter.


  18. - Last Bull Moose - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 10:35 am:

    Biss and Kennedy have to ask who is their second choice for Governor. If they pick Pritzker, stay in and hope for lightning. If Biss picks Kennedy or Kennedy picks Biss, pick up the phone.

    Two weeks out, neither has a good chance of winning if the other stays in. A coin flip would give them a fifty fifty chance.


  19. - Illinois Resident - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 10:38 am:

    —If Rauner really wanted to defeat Pritzker in the primary, he’d put $5 million behind that “least offensive” ad and/or on the “toilet” issue and another one on MJM. He’s not trying to defeat Pritzker in the primary. If he is, he’s doing a pretty poor job of it.—

    Rich, 95% of the your article is spot on but I have to agree with Lucky Pierre on this one. I don’t think Rauner wants Pritzker either.


  20. - Illinois Resident - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 10:44 am:

    –His win won’t be because anyone likes him. It will be because they dislike the other guy more.–
    That is certainly partially true. But there is also a lot of voters that like Pritzker and what he stands for policy wise.


  21. - ILDemVoter - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 10:56 am:

    One of the first comments I fully agree with Rich Miller on…”If Rauner really wanted to defeat Pritzker in the primary, he’d put $5 million behind that “least offensive” ad and/or on the “toilet” issue and another one on MJM”

    Rauner doesn’t want JB to win, just weaken him enough with a slow drip negative campaign during the primary and divide the party so the 60-70% of folks who don’t vote for him stay home during the general. I already see people saying they won’t be voting for Pritzker is he is the nominee. As a side note…how do we feel about the theory that Jeannie Ives is riling up the Republican base enough to that they are motivated to show up for Rauner when she loses? I feel like Rs tend to fall in line with whoever has that letter besides there name moreso than Democrats…


  22. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 11:03 am:

    Kennedy really cares. he wants to fix our system. in order for that to happen he runs as an anti establishment guy risking support from major people. he also visited my area which i would have never ever expected. he is friend to many charites. vote for kennedy


  23. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 11:04 am:

    Biss voted with republicans before to slash middle class benifits before. Kennedy will get corruption out of office.
    VOTE KENNEDY


  24. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 11:05 am:

    by corruption i mean madigan


  25. - Rich Miller - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 11:09 am:

    ===His family name is the only reason he’s in the race.===

    Pritzker has inherited money, Kennedy has an inherited name.


  26. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 11:14 am:

    –Pritzker has inherited money, Kennedy has an inherited name.–

    Exactly.


  27. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 11:15 am:

    Rich miller. All biss does is complain that he is middle class when he has done stuff to hurt the middle class and hasnt come up with much to help us. Kennedy (who is probly in second place now) is progressive by making progressive taxes a big part in campain.


  28. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 11:25 am:

    biss has supported pension leglistlation and has even voted with republicans before.
    That is why kennedy is gaining support


  29. - Techie - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 11:46 am:

    Wow, looks like someone keeps reposting anonymously to attack Biss and support Kennedy.

    We get it, you like Kennedy and dislike Biss. Now please stop spamming.


  30. - Arsenal - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 11:47 am:

    ==I don’t think Rauner wants Pritzker either.==

    I suspect Rauner is “the most worried” about JB in a relative sense, but is also resigned to facing him. Both thoughts lead to the same action.


  31. - Micheal Morris - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 11:54 am:

    No matter who tries i think pritzker will come out on top. From this i think this will be result

    Pritzker: 30%

    Kennedy: 28%

    Biss: 26%


  32. - lake county democrat - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 11:59 am:

    –Kennedy was starved of financial resources by putting out the word that contributing to him was a very big no-no to the Democratic and union powers that be in this state.–

    Well that’s not frightening…


  33. - The destroyer - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:03 pm:

    I could see pritzker winning by a thin margin to Kennedy also biss


  34. - Rich Miller - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:04 pm:

    ===I could see===

    You have special powers, do you?


  35. - the destroyer - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:08 pm:

    Well mainly kennedy and biss(kind of) have been gaining in polls, pritzker has never exceded the 30


  36. - Anon21 - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:12 pm:

    @The Destroyer: Pritzker has led several polls by over 30%. Also, you really think the rest of the field outside the big 3 will garner 16% of the vote???? Marijuana ain’t legal here yet buddy.


  37. - Downstater - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:14 pm:

    i dont mind kennedy or biss being elected. I hate JB. But where im from most people are voting for kennedy or pritzker


  38. - Arsenal - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:19 pm:

    ==If Biss picks Kennedy or Kennedy picks Biss, pick up the phone.==

    So easy for us to say, but in practice, with the people they pay and donations they’ve collected and votes they’ve banked, to say nothing of their own beliefs about who would be the best GE candidate and Governor, it’s a lot to ask.


  39. - Downstater - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:26 pm:

    @Arsenal i hate to say it but i think pritzker will beat both kennedy and biss. My family is split up between with kennedy and biss. but pritzker has most ads


  40. - Urban Girl - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:27 pm:

    Really appreciated this article. I have been having trouble with the “Rauner is afraid to face Pritzker in general” theory. Rauner’s ego means that he thinks he can beat anybody. Tie that in with his greed/cheapness (a 3:1 return on an investment is not good enough), and I think it has been about his thinking that it is cheaper to bloody Priztker in the primary. What is the opposite to the idea the “early money is like yeast”?


  41. - defeat trump - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:33 pm:

    I am going to Kennedy’s meet and greet in champain today. I am an undecided voter


  42. - jwk - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:35 pm:

    I have no special powers but I hope that Kennedy wins by 101 votes


  43. - Grand Avenue - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:36 pm:

    Biss or Kennedy winning the primary makes it harder to Rauner to win because they can play the role of “Generic Democrat” who would crush Rauner.

    JB has dirt on him and Rauner has the money to make sure the public knows that dirt. While JB would still likely win given Rauner’s numbers, he’s the only candidate Rauner could drag down to his negative levels.


  44. - pokemon - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:44 pm:

    Beat bruce rauner , More like beat Pritzker

    Come on chris kennedy and biss, lets amp up those efforts


  45. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:46 pm:

    I could be wrong, but Kennedy’s campaign seems totally pointless, unserious, and inept. Kennedy was the early frontrunner with his name. How was it that him and Daley, with all their elite connections, could not have figured out a much better fundraising strategy and path to victory? It makes me question whether they were ever serious about Kennedy being governor.


  46. - Halsted - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:49 pm:

    If that huge margin of undecideds is less likely to vote for JB, then this is Kennedy’s to lose. I have a feeling the city will be split somewhat evenly, Biss will go strong everywhere North of the city, then Kennedy will win downstate.

    I also think Kennedy will end up winning minority voters.

    Biss, on the other hand, doesn’t connect well with downstate voters in my opinion. It wasn’t that long ago that we saw the Biss meet n greet in Rock Island with more staff attending than voters. Winning just the North side is not a recipe for success.


  47. - Halsted - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:54 pm:

    Anyone else wonder what else will come out on the tapes against JB?


  48. - Hamilton - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 12:56 pm:

    That will be the end of JBs political career if the the rest of tapes were released


  49. - Anonish - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 1:17 pm:

    By all appearances Rauner does not want Pritzker as the nominee. Perhaps he isn’t going too hard at him because he wants to open a wound hoping to let the dems do the rest and avoid too heavy of a hand that could solidify support and encourage enthusiasm around Pritzker.


  50. - Mike - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 1:53 pm:

    I’m normally against billionaires buying their way into office but one of the few reasons I’m supporting JB is because of his massive wealth. JB’s net worth dwarfs Rauner’s. Rauner is going to need a lot of Griffin money.

    Kennedy and Biss just don’t have those resources.


  51. - ShawneeCoal - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 5:28 pm:

    Kennedy and Biss are both respectable men but don’t have the funds or resources. Kennedy has killed his chances in Southern Illinois with his plan for tax increases on guns and ammo. Pritzker has the better ground game and union support. He will win and go on to defeat Rauner in November…..Lets all move along.


  52. - Thomas Zane Stepp - Monday, Mar 5, 18 @ 5:38 pm:

    === Pritzker has the better ground game and union support. He will win and go on to defeat Rauner in November…..Lets all move along. ===

    Not so fast.


  53. - Undecided - Tuesday, Mar 6, 18 @ 8:25 am:

    Neither JB or Ives will comment their stance on our environment or protecting our natural resources from corporate polluters. Still researching Biss and Kennedy. Looks like it will be one of them. We all need clean air and water folks.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


* Reader comments closed until Tuesday
* *** UPDATED x1 *** Tribune asked 16 mayoral candidates to release tax returns, 6 complied
* A rough idea of what they're looking at
* Question of the day: Golden Horseshoe Awards
* Rauner was wrong about "record levels" of unionization
* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: Stava-Murray updates
* Pritzker's inauguration ball tix will benefit Cabrini Green Legal Aid Clinic and Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation
* Rauner claims he's been too busy to reflect on his term
* Pritzker's day in DC
* *** UPDATED x3 - Morrison wants emergency meeting of ILGOP - McConnaughay explains - Schneider responds *** Rauner says he tried to drop out of race after primary
* Feds re-raid Ald. Burke's office
* *** LIVE COVERAGE ***
* Yesterday's stories

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