Defying history, critics and portions of his own party, North Shore businessman Bruce Rauner was elected governor of Illinois yesterday — and, in the end, his victory wasn’t that close.
Mr. Rauner becomes the first Republican sent to the governor’s mansion since George Ryan won in 1998. He’ll have his work waiting for him, with the state facing huge fiscal and economic problems, and Mr. Rauner confronting a Democratic-controlled state House and Senate.
But his apparent winning margin was wide and deep.
With 97 percent of the vote in, he led incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn by about a 170,000 margin, gathering 50.9 percent — a surprise absolute majority — to Mr. Quinn’s 45.7 percent. Libertarian Party nominee Chad Grimm, who had hoped to pull off some conservative voters, turned out not to be much of a factor, getting just about 3 percent of the vote.
Mr. Quinn would not concede last night and told supporters he will not do so until “all the votes” are counted. “Until that happens, I don’t think we should make any judgment,” he said.
But Mr. Quinn led only in the city of Chicago and suburban Cook County. He appeared to lose every single downstate county to Mr. Rauner. Mr. Quinn was beaten by margins of 60-40 or better in the suburban collar counties, and he barely topped 50 percent in suburban Cook County.
Most striking is what happened in the city of Chicago. Mr. Rauner vigorously competed for the African-American vote there, and it appeared to pay off, with the GOP nominee getting almost 21 percent of the total city vote. Turnout was considerably lower than four years ago.
“This is your victory. This is a victory for every family in Illinois,” Mr. Rauner told his supporters during a victory rally last night. “This is about bringing back our great state.”
Mr. Rauner, former chairman of Chicago private-equity firm GTCR LLC, surely owes part of his victory to his wallet, having spent at least $26 million. But his closing message — that Mr. Quinn had failed the state — clearly resonated, with the state’s job growth perking up only in the last quarter or so. “Change” was a powerful message this year from coast to coast.
The governor-elect has been at times stunningly vague about how he intends to heal the state’s weak economy, other than saying he would seek to grow Illinois out of its problems while boosting funding for education. But that won’t be easy.
In a sign of the problems ahead, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, who kept his job, told me his chamber will not take up an extension of the temporary income tax hike that Mr. Quinn had wanted to be approved in the General Assembly’s fall veto session.
Instead, the tax, as scheduled, will drop on individuals from 5 percent now to 3.75 percent effective Jan. 1, Mr. Cullerton said. “We’re not going to pass an income tax increase until (Mr. Rauner) gives his budget address,” Mr. Cullerton continued. That speech is likely to come in February.
In other words, Mr. Rauner will have to ask — and pay the political cost.
Welcome to the big leagues, Mr. Rauner. You wanted the job. Good luck.