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Trover looks back and warns: A big lead can evaporate quickly

Monday, Mar 12, 2018 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Lance Trover’s recent Sun-Times op-ed “The craziness inside a campaign bubble” was so well-written that I told him he should do a piece for me when he got the chance. Here it is…

The names may have changed, but for many voters, the 2018 Primary Election for governor probably looks a lot like 2014, but with a flip of party identification.

In 2014, Republicans had a true throw-down between two state senators, the state treasurer and political novice Bruce Rauner. Rauner had a lead by early January thanks to an outsider campaign message and a significant advantage in resources. He recognized voters were looking for change and appealed to primary voters with his “shake up Springfield” mantra plastered on televisions across the state.

Today, Rauner, like then-Governor Pat Quinn, is a relatively unpopular incumbent being challenged in a primary.

Meanwhile Democrats have a crowded primary with political novice JB Pritzker leading the pack. Pritzker, like Rauner, has a significant advantage in resources. Unlike Rauner in 2014 though, Pritzker decided to cede the outsider mantle in exchange for institutional support, which is far more valuable on the Democrat side, given their superior political infrastructure combined with the power of labor union muscle.

The other similarity? In 2014, Democrat-leaning unions banded together to run ads attacking Rauner. Ironically, this year, it’s Rauner who made a play in the Democrat primary by attacking Pritzker.

Based on the public polls, including one released over the weekend by Capitol Fax, it appears that Pritzker has withstood Rauner’s early barrage, perhaps aided by the fact that Rauner had to turn his focus to his primary opponent, Jeanne Ives.

But primaries can change in an instant, and months of good campaigning can quickly unravel. My experience on the Rauner campaign is a lesson in why you should assume nothing in a primary election.

In 2014, as part of the Rauner operation, we went into Primary Day confident of the outcome. All internal and external data pointed to a resounding win. Public polls showed Rauner with a lead in the mid-teens and our own data showed similar numbers. Our prospects looked so promising that our final TV ad shifted from attacking the competition to a more positive spot. Rest assured, a competent campaign will only stop their negative advertising close to an election if they feel confident of victory.

As the numbers began to pour in on election night, it quickly became evident that winning by double-digits wasn’t going to happen. Political operatives know all-too-well the distinct feeling of nervousness that comes as the votes are being counted no matter how far ahead or behind the polling shows their candidate.

As the margin between Rauner and Kirk Dillard kept shrinking, our modeling still showed we would narrowly prevail, but no one could exhale until the Associated Press finally called the race. Rauner had slipped through by a margin of 3 points - a far cry from the double digits our polling predicted.

To their credit, the Pritzker campaign appears to be taking nothing for granted. The poll released by Capitol Fax shows Pritzker is comfortably leading by 19 points. Just as important, he is attacking any candidate who gets within striking distance of that coveted first place spot, and he doesn’t seem to be relenting. Nor should he, because as the Rauner 2014 primary campaign showed a big lead can evaporate in the flurry of the closing week of a campaign.

The one thing I know for sure about this year’s primary night is that it will be a whole lot less stressful watching from the sidelines.

I think the kid may have a future in this business. /s


  1. - Retired Educator - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 12:58 pm:

    Trover is right. Take nothing for granted until the polls close, and the votes are counted. Then get busy working toward the next election.

  2. - Anon0091 - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 1:00 pm:

    Always run like you’re ten points down. Always.

  3. - Grand Avenue - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 1:01 pm:

    Biss or Kennedy’s hope has got to be that 35% or so is Pritzker’s ceiling and that the undecideds break for one or the other.

    If the undecideds split, Pritzker makes it.

  4. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 1:04 pm:

    Likely JB wins. Then, the fun starts. Ad after ad after ad tying him to Blago, the RE fiasco on his Gold Coast property and then asking, “What the heck has this guy done in his life” that would point to success running a state.

  5. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 1:09 pm:

    Rich…..this guy writes well and knows his stuff. what does he do now??

  6. - Skeptic - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 1:21 pm:

    “It ain’t over till it’s over.” — Yogi Berra

  7. - One of Three Puppets - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 1:25 pm:

    Trover is off with his assessment of 2014. The Rauner folks didn’t have a clue how many union members would crossover. A new group of voters going into the primary is what made the race close. The data driven Rauner folks only polled the universe they knew and not the one that actually showed up. The Dem primary this year will not have a new group of voters crossing into the primary like you had in 2014 for Dillard. Yes, Rauner may be attacking Pritzker (similar to 2014) but he doesn’t have the army of union members to crossover and vote for someone else. Actually, he has the unions shielding him.

    To Trover’s ending. Pritzker will keep on the gas and has the institutional protection that the Rauner folks didn’t have in 2014.

  8. - 47th Ward - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 1:40 pm:

    “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” - Yogi Berra

  9. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 1:43 pm:

    Kennedy and boss both surged individually and were close to pritzker. Then pritzker spreading lies and knocked both of them down

  10. - Arsenal - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 1:49 pm:

    ==Then pritzker spreading lies==

    What were the lies? Did Biss not vote to cut pensions? Did Kennedy not say he was open to taxing retirement income?

  11. - Bobio - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 1:50 pm:

    The reason the 2014 election was so close was because dems took repub ballots to try to oust Rauner. Not gonna happen this time.

    With this JB lead and his ground game, it is ova.

  12. - VanillaMan - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 1:57 pm:

    Thanks Lance,
    Rauner was a pip of a governor.
    A real pip.

  13. - Smart Man - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 2:07 pm:

    Every passing day shows how valuable he was to the Rauner operation.

  14. - Sonny - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 2:07 pm:

    Too soon.

  15. - Leigh John-Ella - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 2:11 pm:

    Just 3 percent of the vote away from never having had to deal with any of this.
    Thanks for rubbing it in.

  16. - State Worker Mentality - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 2:13 pm:

    I always thought Lance was illiterate! So proud of that little guy.

  17. - You might say that, I couldn't - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 2:15 pm:

    It is well written, but why does Trover succumb to the disease of using “Democrat” as an adjective?

    If he wants a future as a pundit, he better learn when the proper word is “Democratic” (e.g., “Democratic Party”) and when it is “Democrat” (e.g., “Pat Quinn is a Democrat”).

    Sorry, it’s like nails on a chalkboard for me.

  18. - Ginhouse Tommy - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 2:19 pm:

    This guy sounds a lot like Rich.

  19. - ItsMillerTime - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 2:31 pm:

    @Ginhouse Tommy

    Have we ever seen Rich and Trover in the same room together?

  20. - Just Me - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 2:33 pm:

    *shakes fist at Trover for sending us this guy; Dillard would be our Governor right now if not for him*

  21. - Think it Through - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 2:50 pm:

    Trover is off base on his assessment of 2014. Yes the unions attacked Rauner but they also had their members crossover too. Rauner doesn’t have an army of voters to crossover.

    In 2014, they could only poll the universe that they knew. So, when the unions asked their members to go into the GOP primary, they did. You can’t poll voters you had no idea existed. This year, JB isn’t facing a threat from a new pool of voters like there was in 2014. He has protection from the unions and the infrastructure and will step on the gas.

  22. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 3:04 pm:

    Indeed, unions went 2 in 5 households for Rauner…

    … then “Decatur”

    The mistake was letting Rutherford hang on so long in so many people’s minds.

    They won. Skyhook worked. Tip the cap.

  23. - Rich Miller - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 3:11 pm:

    ===The mistake was letting Rutherford hang on so long===

    Dillard might’ve gotten close had Rutherford dropped out.

  24. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 3:16 pm:

    ===Dillard might’ve gotten close had Rutherford dropped out.===

    Beyond the raw votes, the momentum would’ve gotten Dillard closer, but the groundwork to Primary Day was good enough for Rauner, better than the other three…

    Rutherford, in the end, with Fiasco Friday, sunk more than himself by sticking around that next day, Saturday.

  25. - ILDemVoter - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 3:58 pm:

    - You might say that, I couldn’t -
    GOP/R’s often won’t say Democratic- it is intentional.

  26. - Ginhouse Tommy - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 4:02 pm:

    ItsMillertime Good point.

  27. - @misterjayem - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 4:40 pm:

    ‘asking, “What the heck has this guy done in his life” that would point to success running a state.’

    And I would expect the other candidate’s ads to ask, “What the heck has that guy done in three years as governor that would point to success running a state?”

    I’d much rather spend the campaign answering your question.

    – MrJM

  28. - Southern Illinois Voter - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 4:53 pm:

    I have.

  29. - Truckin' On - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 5:21 pm:

    Have always liked Lance and appreciate his insights. Wish he was still inside the Rauner machine just to bring some sensibility to the environment. I expect to see big things from Lance in the future.

  30. - Rauner Bought It - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 10:30 pm:

    Rutherford was asked by Dillard to withdraw. He wouldn’t unless Brady did too.

    Dillard lost to Rauner by 22,500 votes. Rutherford finished last with 60,000 votes. Since most Rutherford supporters blamed Rauner for his steep fall, they wouldn’t have voted for Rauner had Rutherfrod withdrawn. It’s very plausible that at least half of Rutherford’s voters would’ve switched to Dillard giving him a narrow victory over Rauner.

  31. - JS Mill - Monday, Mar 12, 18 @ 10:34 pm:

    =Dillard might’ve gotten close had Rutherford dropped out.=

    That is the killer, right there. Where would we be if Dillard had won? A moderate Republican that new how to make deals. Man, could, woulda, shoulda.

  32. - anono - Tuesday, Mar 13, 18 @ 8:22 am:

    All he needs is Grammar 101 -

    “Democrat-leaning” … really?

    Try, “Democratic-leaning”. Unions leans toward the party which recognizes their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

    That party is the Democratic Party.

  33. - Truthteller - Tuesday, Mar 13, 18 @ 9:14 am:

    Pritzker attack ads are effective andvery likely to catapult him to victory. Having the money to respond to any campaign development gives him a big advantage.
    Rauner knows it. That’s why he went negative on Pritzker who can come right back at whatever Rauner throws at him.
    If Pritzker wins the primary, Rauner is burnt toast.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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