Sometimes, money can buy you love.
In the contest for the Republican governor primary nomination, Bruce Rauner spent a staggering $15.2 million from the time he launched his bid in 2013 to the end of March. The spending eclipsed any of his rivals, paving the way for the Winnetka venture capitalist to not only clinch the GOP nomination in March, but walk away with more primary votes than even Gov. Pat Quinn.
On March 18, the number of votes cast for Rauner: 327,289.
Broken down, that’s $46 per vote — more than any other candidate running for governor — Republican or Democrat.
The second biggest spender per vote in the GOP primary, however, finished dead last. Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford spent nearly $1 million since mid-2013 for a total of about $15 per vote.
Sometimes, money doesn’t do a darn thing for you.
State Rep. Maria Antonia “Toni” Berrios, D-Chicago spent about $107 per vote — about $100,000 more than her challenger — Will Guzzardi — only to lose to the political newcomer.
Berrios had powerful backers, including Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and Berrios’ father, who is one of the most powerful Hispanic politicians in the state, Cook County Democratic Party Chairman and Assessor Joe Berrios.
Guzzardi was the target of an onslaught of negative campaign ads, including one that claimed he would go soft on sex offenders. Guzzardi contends that old-fashioned, shoe-leather campaigning worked for him. He was inside the living rooms of so many people in his district that the negative ads fell flat, he said.
“That made the difference. I think that was actually really critical, relative to the negative ads,” Guzzardi said of walking the Northwest Side district. “The voters knew me and knew what I was about. When they started seeing this offensive, negative ads before me, they said: ‘That’s not the Will we know.’ ”
Spending gobs of cash did work for Sheldon “Shelly” Harris, whose ads blanketed TV for two weeks during the March primary.
Harris spent nearly $1 million to win his bid to the state’s appellate court in the first district, with about $10 for each of the 89,857 votes cast in his favor. The runner-up in the race, Freddrenna Lyle, spent just 78 cents per vote in the race and lost by about 5,000 votes.
For its part, Rauner’s campaign said the newcomer had to make a bigger investment to introduce himself to Illinois voters.
From the time Rauner launched his candidacy to the close of the first quarter of 2014, he outspent his closest rival, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, 15-1. That included Rauner pumping about $6.5 million of his own cash into the contest.
During the same period that Rauner burned through more than $15 million, his November competition, Gov. Pat Quinn, spent $1.4 million on campaign costs. Quinn sailed to victory in the primary with no formidable opposition, getting 316,746 votes at a cost of $4.60 per vote.
Rauner’s strategy was to bulk up early and build a formidable lead. By the end of 2013, Rauner had poured out $7 million, buying up TV ads to introduce himself to voters, running polls, traveling the state and working on strategy for the next three months of 2014.
By contrast, the 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady had a far different approach. Brady as of December 2013 reported spending an unbelievably meager figure: $5.
One could argue the candidates’ spending was borne out on Election Day.
In March, just 123,109 votes were cast for Brady statewide. Brady won 32,000 more votes in the 2010 primary when it was a seven-way race.
Rauner’s early investment helped him fend off Dillard’s late surge as well.
A coalition of union groups as well as a separate group aimed at blocking Rauner’s bid spent millions in an anti-Rauner effort. By the time groups turned their efforts toward fully backing Dillard, it was too late.
“Bruce began last year with 0.0 percent name ID,” campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf said. “It takes a fair amount of resources to get his name ID up. Pat Quinn and his allies spent $6 million trying to defeat him in the primary.
Schrimpf said a guy who was unknown to almost every voter 12 months earlier ended up getting more votes than Quinn. However, it’s difficult to say how much so-called crossover occurred in the primary with typical Democrats — particularly those with union ties who did not want Rauner — pulling a Republican ballot this time around.
Still, Rauner managed to take 40 percent of the vote, his campaign saying that was the first time in 12 years that had happened for a first-time candidate in a Republican primary.
Looking forward, Rauner faces a formidable financial challenge against Quinn. While Rauner emerged somewhat bruised and bloodied from the primary, with just $1.3 million remaining, Quinn emerged relatively unscathed and with a daunting war chest totaling nearly $9 million.
Rauner spent $6.5 million of his personal fortune on his primary campaign, and that personal expenditure is expected to continue.
“He has always maintained that if people are willing to invest in him, he’s willing to invest in himself,” Schrimpf said. “He obviously did that in the primary, and the same philosophy holds true for the general election.”