Jim Dey: Rauner ad stars thankful governors of neighboring states

Jim Dey: Rauner ad stars thankful governors of neighboring states

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is running for re-election, and one of the themes he's emphasizing is failure — Illinois' failure.

But in emphasizing failure, Rauner is using Republican governors from Missouri, Wisconsin and Indiana as examples to make it clear that the reason for Illinois' failure does not lie with him.

Here's the script from a current television ad in which three state governors assert that their states' economic successes and job gains are, at least partially, due to Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's refusal to embrace Rauner-backed measures aimed at boosting the state's lagging economy:

"Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: We want to say, 'Thank you.'

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb: Thanks, Mike Madigan.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens: Thank you.

Walker: For raising Illinois taxes.

Greitens: For blocking Rauner's reforms.

Holcomb: And helping create new jobs in Indiana.

Walker: In Wisconsin.

Greitens: In Missouri.

Walker: Our economy's on fire.

Greitens: We're growing good jobs.

Holcomb: And we're growing union jobs faster than Illinois.

Walker: So, we owe you.

Greitens: Huge.

Holcomb: Hoosiers love you, Mike Madigan.

Walker: Cheeseheads love you, Madigan.

Greitens: Big fans here in Missouri. Big time. Thank you, Mike.

Holcomb: Thanks, Mike.

Overlay: Stop Mike Madigan."

The full ad is below:

University of Illinois advertising lecturer Shachar Meron said the message is clear — that Illinois Democrats are "bad for jobs." He suggested that the GOP will emphasize that Illinois' border states are prospering while they are not.

"This is a way of making it clear that economic issues are going to be a big part of (campaign) messaging," Meron said.

But the message is also complicated. To get it, viewers must be persuaded that the state's job-growth failures and years of out-migration are due to the failure to pass economic reforms, including changes in workers' compensation legislation, that lower employer costs and make the state more inviting to job creators.

What's the target audience? Certainly not people whose highest priority is abortion rights, social-service spending or law enforcement.

It's aimed, Meron said, at people who "care about economic issues," perceive the state to be in trouble and are sympathetic to the GOP position that Democrats, led by Madigan, are responsible.

That's a position that Democratic gubernatorial candidates flatly reject. The Democratic Governor's Association put out a statement denouncing the Republican incumbent.

"Illinois is losing jobs and people because Bruce Rauner forced the state to go through a two-year budget crisis that set the state back years financially and slowed the state's economy," the group stated.

Politics is often about misdirection.

Chicago businessman J.B. Pritzker, the Democrats' leading candidate for the governor's office, routinely cites Republican President Donald Trump as a good reason for voters to reject Rauner in the November 2018 election.

At the same time, Rauner has spent millions of advertising dollars demonizing the powerful Madigan as the cause of legislative intransigence.

Neither Trump nor Madigan will be on the statewide ballot next year. But voters are being asked to visualize the two as the faces of the Republican and Democratic parties' gubernatorial candidates.

Because that's not an easy sell, UI political-science professor Brian Gaines described Rauner's advertisement as "clever" but "risky."

Gaines said Rauner is conceding problems but "ducking the blame" by attributing them to Madigan. He said it's possible Rauner could persuade voters that Illinois is in bad shape but not that it's someone else's fault.

"In general, a voter who think things are a mess is going to want change," Gaines said.

Neither Rauner nor Madigan is particularly popular right now.

To fight his Darth Vader-like image, Madigan and his advisers are trying to create a different look by, among other things, publishing pictures of an amiable Madigan reading to schoolchildren.

Rauner is in political trouble in this Democratic-dominated state. But pollster Greg Durham, who has worked primarily for Republicans in the past, said he's "not in as much trouble as everyone thinks" when contrasted with a flesh-and-blood opponent, like Pritzker or former UI trustees Chairman Christopher Kennedy.

Durham, who is president of "We Ask America" polling, said no one can deny Illinois is in a financial mess or that Madigan and his dominance of the General Assembly is widely perceived as a problem by voters.

"That's why I consider it a brilliant ad," said Durham. "... It's really pointing out the Madigan problem."

One could argue about who has caused Illinois' financial problems, including budget deficits, pension shortcomings and high taxes. But it's impossible to deny they are dire.

From the time the recession ended in 2009 until July 2017, Illinois lost 1,700 manufacturing jobs while Michigan gained 171,000, Indiana gained 83,300, Ohio gained 75,900 and Wisconsin gained 43,000.

Since July, Illinois picked up 600 manufacturing jobs while its six neighboring states gained anywhere from 1,800 (Iowa) to 9,900 (Wisconsin), according to the Illinois Manufacturers Association.

Manufacturing remains big in Illinois, representing 9.5 percent of the state's total workforce. But the state remains unattractive to companies looking to relocate or expand here, as recent factory-location decisions involving Foxconn and Toyota/Mazda demonstrate.

Greg Baise, president of the manufacturers' association, said Illinois' higher workers' compensation costs and mandated union membership "stick out like a sore thumb" to job creators who want to avoid both potential problems.

Further, he said, both problems go back much farther than Rauner's three-year tenure.

"Madigan is a constant theme in the decline of Illinois. (That's why) I'd give the ad an A," he said.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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JohnRalphio wrote on November 07, 2017 at 1:11 pm

I mean...if Rauner is trying to put out an ad where he looks like an effective leader who doesn't blame others for his mistakes, this isn't it.

Save the Farms wrote on November 08, 2017 at 8:11 pm

The mistake Rauner made is not understanding that nothing will change until Michael Madigan dies.

The State is desperate for a real change, thus why Rauner was elected.

However, reality in this State is you just have to do the best you can as we mark time until Michael dies.

Sad, but true.