Primary challenge squeezes Illinois GOP governor
CHICAGO — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner insists he is “100 percent” focused on the November general election, and not worried about the conservative challenger trying to unseat him on Tuesday.
His actions, however, seem to suggest otherwise.
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His campaign has increased TV ad spending in Chicago. But the biggest signal that the Illinois Republican primary might be closer than anyone expected came when Rauner vetoed a major piece of gun reform legislation Tuesday that members of his own party joined in sending to his desk.
Rauner — whom the right has repeatedly hit as too liberal on social issues — had more than a month to consider the bill, but chose to use his veto power one week before the primary election. And he announced his veto intention on a conservative radio show popular in Republican-heavy downstate Illinois.
In this solidly blue state, it’s a decision that’s certain to haunt Rauner should he get to the general election in what’s expected to be a Democratic wave year.
Even some in his own party say Rauner’s willingness to risk November fallout over the veto is a sign he’s concerned about Tuesday’s primary against state Rep. Jeanne Ives.
“I think it was purely a political decision by him. No doubt about it. Rauner usually takes 60 days on everything,” charged conservative Republican state Rep. David McSweeney, a longtime Rauner critic.
McSweeney accused Rauner of panicking after anecdotal reports of low early-voting turnout among Republican voters.
“These turnout numbers are really worrying the Rauner people,” McSweeney said. “He’s running scared in Southern Illinois.”
On Wednesday, the governor’s campaign added $350,000 to an existing ad buy, putting the money into Chicago-area markets, according to advertising data. To date, Rauner has spent more than $16 million on TV in the primary. Ives has spent $2.4 million on TV.
Rauner, who was considered the most vulnerable incumbent governor in the country before Ives entered the race, is polling less favorably than President Donald Trump in a state Trump lost in 2016 by nearly a million votes.
The governor has struggled to win back conservatives who abandoned him after he signed bills supporting abortion rights, enacting immigration protections and making it possible for transgender individuals to change their sex on birth certificates.
The gun legislation would have required training for those selling weapons in how to properly conduct background checks, prevent theft and avoid selling weapons to straw purchasers. The bill also would have required installing security cameras inside gun shops, and employee fingerprinting and background checks.
Rauner called the regulations “onerous” for gun-shop owners and said the bill did too little to address underlying problems of gun trafficking.
“We have ample proof that such narrowly focused legislative responses make for good political cover, but they do little to stop the illegal flow of guns into Illinois or prevent people from committing thousands of crimes in our state each year with illegal guns,” Rauner said in his veto address.