Illinois gubernatorial candidates Bruce Rauner and J.B. Pritzker will square off in the November general election after clinching their party’s respective nominations Tuesday night. Pritzker easily took the Democratic field, defeating his closest competitors by a 20-point margin. As the incumbent, Governor Rauner, narrowly fended off a challenge from his political right by State Representative Jeanne Ives. Rauner took 51.6 percent of the vote, while Ives had 48.4 percent, making it far tighter than pollsters had originally predicted. The Governor performed well in Cook County, while Ives picked up support in the counties outside Chicago and in rural regions.
However, Rauner’s primary performance could spell trouble. Illinois has a strong base of Democratic support, and a low-recognition candidate like Ives demonstrates the Governor’s political vulnerability.
Pritzker, who faced allegation surrounding his offshore banking accounts, as well as private FBI tapes, had outperformed expectations. With the support of powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, and an energized Democratic base, Pritzker sailed to victory with 45 percent of the vote among five other candidates. State Senator Daniel Biss captured around 27 percent, while Chris Kennedy had 24 percent.
Rauner versus Pritzker, a multimillionaire and a billionaire, respectively, has the ability to become the most expensive gubernatorial race in American history. They have already flooded the Land of Lincoln with a combined $150 million in campaign cash, less than seven months before the general election (the record was set in 2010, when Democrat Jerry Brown defeated Republican Meg Whitman after they raised a combined $280 million to run for Governor of California).
The 2018 Illinois gubernatorial contest may become the most expensive governor’s race in American history. A multimillionaire incumbent and multibillionaire challenger have already flooded the Land of Lincoln with $180 million in campaign cash ahead of the primary. With eight months left until the general election, the current rate of spending will likely break the record before November (the record was set in 2010, when Democrat Jerry Brown defeated Republican Meg Whitman after they raised a combined $280 million to run for Governor of California).
Meanwhile, Illinois has serious budget issues, with nearly $9 billion in past due bills.
Republican Governor Bruce Rauner will seek re-election under dismal circumstances. He’s among the most unpopular governors in America, with a 31-percent approval rating, according to a February Morning Consult poll. Rauner defeated Democrat Governor Pat Quinn in 2014, after riding a business-friendly message focused on streamlining government. Rauner, a former private equity manager worth several hundred million dollars, has delivered on few campaign promises since then. He’s also antagonized the state’s financial woes by vetoing legislation from the Democratic-controlled state house. In 2015, he tried to close a $1.5 billion budget gap by cutting a number of government programs, which angered many Democrats. Currently, the Illinois credit rating remains one level above junk.
Fortunately for Rauner, his missteps might not cost the him office. According to a February poll from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, Rauner leads State Representative Jeanne Ives, 51-31 percent. With a sample of 259 Republican voters, more than 18 percent remained undecided.
Ives, a three-term assemblywoman from the western Chicago suburbs, has crafted a campaign targeting social conservatives in down state Illinois. She’s criticized Rauner for failing to deliver on spending cuts or holding government agencies accountable. In a controversial television advertisement, a pro-Ives group attacked Rauner on policies ranging from transgender bathrooms to sanctuary cities. The Republican Party has increased its presence in rural Illinois in recent years, which could benefit Ives. However, Rauner has far outspent Ives, raising more than $103 million, with more than half coming from his own fortune. Conversely, Ives has only reached $3.8 million, placing her in an uphill battle.
The top Democratic nominee, J.B. Pritzker, is a multi-billionaire scion from a powerful Chicago family. Pritzker has been a major figure in Democratic fundraising circles, while his older sister, Penny Pritzker, served as President Barack Obama’s Commerce Secretary during his second-term. With a personal wealth of $3.5 billion, Pritzker has used more than $63 million of his own money for the campaign. Yet his finances have become a point of contention: A March news story highlighted his offshore bank accounts, he has not yet released his tax returns, and he was caught on an FBI wiretap in 2008 discussing campaign funding and available statewide offices with former Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich. Blagojevich, was sentenced to 14 years in jail on federal corruption charges after he tried to sell President Barack Obama’s vacant senate seat in 2008.
Pritzker also maintains a close relationship with Michael Madigan, Illinois House Speaker and Chairman of the State Democratic Party. Madigan is the longest-serving leader in any federal or state legislative body in U.S. history. He’s among the most powerful politicians in Illinois, known for steamrolling opponents and wielding heavy influence over legislation. His shadow looms large in this primary, even though allegations connecting him to impropriety have emerged.
In the SIU poll, which sampled 472 voters, Pritzker has 31 percent support among Democrats, with nearly a quarter undecided. Trailing behind the billionaire is State Senator Daniel Biss of Evanston, a progressive candidate who wants to collect tax money from financial transactions on the Board of Trade and Mercantile Exchange. He once ran a Super PAC for Madigan, whose funding apparatus gave Biss more than $220,000 to help him win in 2010. However, his liberal bona fides have come under fire after he cosponsored a bill limiting the growth of retirement annuities for state employee pensions. The Illinois State Supreme Court struck down the legislation on constitutional grounds in 2015. Biss said he regrets the co-sponsorship but he still wants to reduce debts in the state retirement system. With roughly $5 million in campaign funding, he falls well short of Pritzker’s resources.
With 17 percent in the SIU poll, Chris Kennedy has emerged as a dark horse contender. As the son of Robert F. Kennedy, and the nephew of President John F. Kennedy, Chris has made gun control and mental health a centerpiece of his candidacy. He also wants to reform the state property tax system, calling it “a racket” in public. He served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the University of Illinois from 2012 to 2015. He was President of Merchandise Mart Properties, a commercial management firm based in Chicago.
Three other candidates have received single digit polling numbers: Bob Diabler, a Madison County school superintendent located west of St. Louis; Tio Hardiman, director of the anti-violence group Cease Fire Illinois; and Dr. Robert Marshall, a radiologist and Vietnam veteran who wants to divide Illinois into three separate states—Chicago, Chicago suburbs and rest of the state.
The Cook Political Report has categorized the general election as a toss-up, while Inside Elections has it tilting towards Democrats.
Democrat Conor Lamb has declared victory over Republican Rick Saccone in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, held Tuesday, March 13th. Less than 600 votes separate the two candidates in a race where more than 227,000 votes were cast. Saccone has not yet ceded the race, while absentee ballots continue to trickle in.
Republican Party officials have already said they will request a recount. They’ve also sought to impound all voting machines citing voter irregularities.
This special election—like others before—was billed as a litmus test for the GOP ahead of the 2018 midterms in November. The district, which encompasses part of Pittsburgh’s suburbs and stretches into rural southwestern Pennsylvania, supported President Donald Trump by 20 points in the 2016 election. Registered Democrats have a large presence, but the district was considered safely Republican for more than a decade. Republican congressman Tim Murphy held the seat since 2003, until allegations surfaced of an extramarital affair and texts urging his mistress to have an abortion appeared in the media. Murphy resigned from office in October 2017.
Lamb, a 33-year-old former Marine and U.S. Attorney, campaigned as a moderate Democrat who supported gun rights and promised to protect social safety nets. Throughout his campaign, Lamb said he wouldn’t support Nancy Pelosi to lead House Democrats, while promising to back the President when it benefited the district. As a state representative, Saccone ran as a staunch supporter of the Trump agenda. The former Air Force officer had become known in the region for his firebrand conservatism.
Lamb outspent Saccone by nearly a five-to-one margin. According to pre-special election FEC filings, Lamb spent $3.1 million while Saccone doled out roughly $615,000. Outside groups spent more than $13 million, with more than 80 percent supporting Saccone.
A new court-ordered congressional map will eliminate the 18th district in November. As a result, Saccone and Lamb could run again in separate districts during the 2018 midterms.
DMGS will continue to monitor this and provide updates as they develop.
Republican Governor John Kasich will leave office at the end of 2018, as rumors of a potential 2020 presidential bid swirl. Governor Kasich’s pending departure creates an opportunity for several candidates in both parties to serve as chief executive of a bellwether state.
Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor
Attorney General Mike DeWine
Two contenders have emerged in the Ohio Republican Primary, Attorney General Mike DeWine and Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor. According to a January poll form the 1984 Society, a nonprofit bipartisan group of former Ohio Senators and Senate employees, DeWine leads Taylor by 40 points in the GOP primary. The poll included a sample of 800 likely voters with 32 percent undecided. DeWine’s strong showing comes after U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci dropped out in December to pursue a Senate seat. Meanwhile, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted ended his campaign in November to join the DeWine ticket as the Lieutenant Governor.
DeWine has served in public office for more than 40 years. As a former Senator, Congressman, Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, and State Senator, DeWine’s name recognition will certainly prove advantageous in the primary. DeWine and Husted have already locked up large swaths of donors and support, netting $10.8 million in cash. Moreover, the Ohio Republican Party endorsed his campaign in February during their central committee meeting.
During her speech to the committee, Taylor called the conference “Mike DeWine’s living room” and said “This absolutely represents the good ole’ boy career politician establishment that wants to have things their way.”
As her speech illustrates, Taylor has positioned herself as a conservative outsider competing against a well-established Republican. She has tapped Cincinnati businessman Nathan Estruth to serve as her running mate and has enlisted Axiom Strategies, a public affairs company founded by Jeff Roe. Axiom gained notoriety working with Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign in 2016. While her chances remain slim, Axiom could prove valuable for identifying funding sources outside Ohio.
Taylor could also out flank DeWine from the right. The Attorney General has a long record of policy decisions, including some controversial stances on guns which Taylor could expose. She is also making hay over DeWine’s refusal to debate (the Democratic party has hosted four debates, while the GOP has provided none). An early endorsement from Kasich could turn Trump Republicans against her and without an open forum to attack DeWine’s record, it will become difficult to close the gap.
In the Democratic primary, four candidates from diverse backgrounds have emerged, but none have become the clear cut favorite. Richard Cordray, the former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director, led all Democratic nominees with 24 percent in the 1984 Society poll, while 54 percent remain undecided. Prior to the poll, Cordray announced that former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton would join his ticket. Sutton was viewed as Cordray’s biggest challenger, but the move did little to separate him from the pack. As a former Ohio Attorney General and Treasurer, Cordray worked in President Barack Obama’s administration and has a personal relationship with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. His campaign has focused on kitchen table issues like jobs, consumer protection, and wages.
If Cordray does win the nomination, he faces a big challenge in defeating DeWine. According to the 1984 Society poll, Cordray is down 21 points to DeWine in a head-to-head matchup, with only 23 percent undecided.
Trailing behind Cordray in the Democratic race is Dennis Kucinich, with roughly 16 percent. The former Cleveland Mayor and congressman has strong ties to Northeast Ohio, where much of the Democratic vote in Ohio is concentrated. His progressive record hinges on a populist economic message that could attract Democrats who voted for Trump. His liberal credentials could also prove beneficial in a midterm energized by the base. Kucinich has tapped Akron City Councilwoman Tara Samples to serve as his running mate.
While he only has four percent in the 1984 Society poll, State Senator Joe Schiavoni remains a strong contender with a high ceiling. His campaign has focused on reforming charter schools, protecting worker rights, maintaining Medicaid expansion and implementing gun control measures. He is also pushing for more reliable internet access in rural Ohio.
A 38-year-old Democratic lawmaker from the Youngstown area, Schiavoni has blue collar appeal in an area popular with Trump. Schiavoni, a former Golden Gloves champion, is the only Democrat to serve in statewide office during Kasich’s second term. Moreover, being a candidate outside the “party establishment,” Schiavoni has portrayed himself as a fresh face for a party seeking relevance in Ohio again (Republicans have controlled the Governor, state house and senate since 2010). Yet, spreading his campaign’s message will require more exposure and resources. Schiavoni has selected Stephanie Dodd, a former member of the Ohio Board of Education and operator of a nonprofit that specializes in fundraising and event planning, to serve as his running mate.
Trailing behind Schiavoni is Ohio State Supreme CourtJustice Bill O’Neill, a pro-life Democrat from Chagrin Falls. O’Neill wants to legalize marijuana and use the tax revenue to re-open state mental health hospitals. O’Neill created controversy in December when he posted on Facebook that he had slept with 50 women throughout his life. He currently has three percent support.
During a March 7 debate in Toledo, all of the Democratic candidates attacked Cordray as the party favorite for his decision to accept $200,000 from lawyers and lobbyists. Kucinich and O’Neil also attacked his “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. Schiavoni then went after Kucinich for meeting with Syrian Dictator Bashar Al Assad in 2017 after he had used chemical weapons to kill his own people. The former mayor defended the visit saying it was in the interest of peace. All the nominees said they would veto any right-to-work legislation. Kucinich and O’Neill called for full legalization of marijuana, while Cordray said Ohio should only take that step with a statewide vote.
Every candidate said they would work with Trump when he is right and oppose him when he is wrong.
The Cook Political Report and Inside Elections has labeled the race as leaning Republican.
Texas gubernatorial candidates Lupe Valdez and Andrew White finished first and second, respectively, in the state’s Democratic primary on Tuesday, March 7th. Because neither candidate finished with more than 50 percent, the two will have a run-off to determine who will receive the nomination before the general election. Valdez, a former Dallas County Sherriff, captured 42.9 percent of the vote, while White, an investment banker and the son of former Governor Bill White, received 27.4 percent. Several other Democratic candidates finished far behind Valdez and White.
Valdez put up big numbers in the Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio areas. She collected all the southwestern counties where her campaign ran Spanish-language radio advertisements. White performed well throughout the Gulf Coast and Houston regions. Prior to the primary, White was buttressed by newspaper endorsements from The Houston Chronicle, The Dallas Morning News and The San Antonio Express-News. Valdez has countered with support from the Texas AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro.
Texas Democrats cast more than a million ballots, the highest primary total since 2002. The turnout fueled hopes for a blue wave in November, but the Democratic gubernatorial nominee will have an uphill battle usurping Republican Governor Greg Abbott. In the GOP race, Abbot received more than 90 percent support, with the closest challenger garnering only eight percent. The first-term governor remains one of the most popular in the country. Abbot currently has more than $41 million to help stem a Democratic challenger in the general election.
Meanwhile, Valdez’s campaign has only netted $125,000 since December. White has raised more than $1.5 million, much of which remains in his war-chest for the run-off primary later this spring.
After eight years, Republican Governor Nathan Deal will leave office due to term limits. Deal was elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1992, before switching to the Republican party in 1995. His change reflects the Peach State’s 20-year shift from Democratic to Republican control. Since 2005, the Republicans have held the offices of Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State. Yet in recent years, the pendulum has begun to swing back towards Democrats as Georgia’s demographic favors liberals, indicated by the Democrats’ strong performance during a 2017 special election to replace the congressional seat vacated by Republican Tom Price.
State Rep. Stacy Abrams
State Rep. Stacy Evans
Two state legislators, Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans, have entered the race for the Democratic nomination. Both women have legal backgrounds with similar liberal policy prescriptions, but appeal to two different electorates. Stacey Evans has represented a suburban Atlanta district in the State House since 2011. She’s championed education initiatives like the state’s HOPE Scholarship program, which offers education opportunities to high school graduates with low income. Evans hopes to expand the program while making college more affordable for students. As a white woman, she’s recounted her struggles growing up in poverty in rural Georgia before earning a HOPE scholarship. Evans’ campaign aims to attract rural and suburban Democrats, while state donors and endorsements have fueled her campaign.
Stacey Abrams is an African-American woman who led Democrats in the Georgia House where she served from 2007 to 2017. A Spelman graduate with a law degree from Yale, Abrams was a romance novelist and a Deputy City Attorney for Atlanta at age 29. Her platform advocates for improved access to childhood education and healthcare, while increasing the state’s minimum wage. So far, Abrams has attracted a big endorsement from Rep. John Lewis, as well as a host of national liberal groups, including MoveOn, Democracy for America, and the Working Families Party. Abrams will likely aim to expand the urban electorate in Georgia, where more than 1 million black voters did not cast ballots in the 2014 gubernatorial race.
According to a March Mason-Dixon Poll of 500 likely Democratic voters, Abrams has 29 percent support, while Evans has 17 percent. Fifty-four percent remain undecided.
In the GOP, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle has emerged as the likely nomination, raising more than $7 million in campaign funding. According to a Landmark/RosettaStone poll from October 2017, Cagle earned 35 percent support from likely Republican voters (among 800 polled). However, more than 44 percent had not decided. Cagle has strong relationships with the state’s GOP establishment and its political action committees, giving him a significant leg-up in campaign funding. He grabbed national headlines in late February after calling out Delta—an Atlanta-based corporation—on social media to restore a discount to NRA members, otherwise the state would pull a $50 million sales-tax exemption on jet fuel.
Hunter Hill, a state senator from the northern Atlanta suburbs, took 9 percent in the poll. A former West Point graduate who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s been in the State Senate since 2012. He’s raised roughly $2.2 million.
Meanwhile, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp had 7 percent. Kemp has $2.1 million on hand and will likely try to appeal to rural voters. Kemp served in the Georgia Senate from 2002 to 2006, before winning the Secretary of State race in 2010 and again in 2014.
The Cook Political Report has categorized the race as safely Republican and Inside Elections has called it likely Republican.
Republican Governor Rick Scott will leave office after two terms, creating an opportunity for seven Democrats and 13 Republicans in the 2018 gubernatorial election. A large purple state with a broad demographic, Florida’s contest will help gauge the political winds ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Raising the stakes even further, the new governor will have veto power when the Sunshine State redistricts 27 congressional seats following the 2020 census.
In the Democratic primary, former U.S. Representative Gwen Graham has emerged as the frontrunner. According to a Mason-Dixon poll from February, Graham received a plurality with 20 percent support. Yet, nearly half of all Florida Democrats remain undecided. As the daughter of former Florida Governor Bob Graham, she represented Florida’s 2nd congressional district from 2015 to 2017. Her campaign message has focused on expanding health care, improving public schools and protecting the environment.
Former Miami Beach Mayor Philipe Levine followed Graham with 17 percent party support in the Mason-Dixon poll. With an entrepreneurial background, Levine served as Miami Beach mayor from 2013 to 2017 and calls himself a “radical centrist.” He’s pushing a “progressive economic vision” to make Florida one of the most sustainable economies. Better jobs, better education and higher investment are among his campaign messages.
Following Levine is Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, who captured 10 percent in the Mason-Dixon poll. Gillum has been involved in Florida politics since 2004 when he was elected to Tallahassee city council. Gillum has emerged as the progressive candidate who wants to raise the corporate tax rate and use the revenue for vocational training, early-childhood education and increases to teacher salaries. Gillum also says he wants Medicare-for-all, as well as an increase to the state’s minimum wage. However, an ethics investigation over a relationship with a lobbyist could threaten his candidacy.
In the Republican primary, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Adam Putnam, took the lead with 27 percent in the Mason-Dixon poll. Similar to Florida Democrats, nearly half of all GOP voters remain undecided. Putnam has already spent $3.7 million on a gubernatorial bid that’s advocated for less government interference to protect constitutional liberties, like the second amendment. The former state legislator and U.S. representative helped expand Florida’s concealed carry program, making it the largest in the country. Putnam has emphasized a need to support veterans with various job training programs and mental health services. He’s also stressed a need for more vocational training and technical education in schools.
U.S. Rep Ron DeSantis
Commissioner Adam Putnam
United States Rep. Ron DeSantis, a tea party conservative representing Florida’s 6th congressional district, took 23 percent in the Mason-Dixon poll. The Jacksonville native attended Yale and Harvard law school before becoming a Naval officer who served in Iraq. As a member of the House Oversight Committee, DeSantis frequently appears on Fox News to criticize the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Trump. His loyalty to the administration has already earned an endorsement from Trump. DeSantis has made education a top priority with a pledge to expand charter schools and voucher programs. He also wants to improve the economy by recruiting a diverse group of industries to the Sunshine State.
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has not officially announced his candidacy, although he nabbed 7 percent in the Mason-Dixon poll. Many expect Corcoran to announce on March 9 when the Florida legislature ends.
Nearly half of all registered Democrats and Republicans remain undecided, making it hard to give any candidate a clear edge in their respective primaries. Moreover, Inside Elections and the Cook Political Report have labeled the 2018 gubernatorial race as a toss-up.
Sebastian Naravez-Medina contributed to this report.