It may be hard for some people to believe. But with the 2012 election barely in the books, Democrats and Republicans who want to be elected Illinois' governor in 2014 are maneuvering for political advantage.
On the Democratic side, Gov. Pat Quinn already has announced that he'll be a candidate for his party's nomination. Meanwhile, William Daley, the brother and son of Chicago mayors and a former top aide to President Barack Obama, has indicated he's seriously considering taking on Quinn in the Democratic primary.
At the same time, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, daughter of all-powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan, also is considered a possible Democratic candidate.
Compared to the Byzantine activities on the Republican side, the Democratic race is fairly clear — Quinn probably will have to get past a primary challenger, as he did in 2010 when he beat state Comptroller Dan Hynes in his quest for a second full term in office.
For the GOP, the picture is considerably more clouded — lots of names have been mentioned. But the biggest name on the GOP list is that of a multimillionaire Chicago businessman most people have never heard of — Bruce Rauner.
He's been described as the man who made his close friend Chicago Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel a multimillionaire. He's married to a liberal Democrat who has made generous contributions to Emily's List, a political action committee that supports only liberal women. He has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Chicago Democrats.
That's not the typical resume of a candidate running in a Republican primary. But Rauner, who describes himself as a "free market, conservative Republican," has so much money other Republicans who might run are worried that he could bury them in an avalanche of negative political advertising.
Just recently, the office of U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, a Peoria Republican who's thinking of running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, suggested that Rauner is the hidden financier of an advertising campaign that criticizes Schock's yes vote for the recent compromise tax package Congress negotiated with President Obama.
"This is all about the possibility of Aaron running for governor in Illinois next year and that any opponent fears facing him more than any other candidate in an election — in this case, the Republican primary for governor in March of next year," said Steven Shearer, Schock's chief of staff.
The radio and TV ad were sponsored by the Ohio-based Jobs and Progress Fund, which does not disclose its donors. Rauner told a Springfield newspaper he had "nothing to do with" the TV and radio adverting and described Schock as a "good guy" whom he has supported in his races for Congress. But he said Schock is not "qualified to be governor — not even close."
The back-and-forth between Rauner and Schock is a typical political spat that doesn't amount to much. But it is significant in the sense of what it portends — a scorched-earth campaign that will leave the eventual party nominee, whoever it is, too weak to win in the November 2014 general election.
Republican Party leaders figure they already have enough problems running in a solid Democratic state. So they are hoping they can discourage the possibility of a nasty primary.
"Whatever we can do as a party, we are going to do," said Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party. "I don't think we can afford to have a divisive primary where a lot of money is blown and a lot of hard feelings are being generated."
Right now there are at least four Republicans who have indicated interest in running for the GOP nomination for governor — Rauner, Schock, unsuccessful 2010 GOP candidate and state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford.
State Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale already has announced unofficially that he's running and said he'll make his formal announcement "at the appropriate time."
Dillard said he's confident he would be a strong candidate in the fall election, but acknowledged a nasty primary would hurt the party's chances to win the general election.
He cited the political damage inflicted on GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney during the 2012 primary season as one example of a self-inflicted wound. Dillard also cited his experience as one of seven candidates for the 2010 Republican nomination for governor. Dillard finished second, trailing Brady by just 193 votes. Brady subsequently lost the general election race to Quinn.
"One of the things Republicans should have learned is that we dilute our message, spend money and perhaps not pick the best candidate when there is a big field," Dillard said.
Multimillionaire businessmen who have run for office in Illinois do not have a history of success. However, they do have a history of having an impact.
Republican Jim Oberweis used his fortune to run for governor, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. He failed to win his party's nominations in races for governor and the senate. He won the GOP nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives but was defeated in the general election.
Recently elected to the Illinois Senate, Oberweis said major financial support is "a necessary but not sufficient ingredient for success."
Democrat Blair Hull, a Chicago multimillionaire, used his fortune to try to win the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2004, running against, among others, then-state Sen. Obama. Hull appeared to be on his way to winning the party nomination when he was felled by scandal.
"(The Hull campaign) appeared to be working," said Oberweis. "But (his lead in the polls) didn't hold up when his ex-wife claimed that he beat her."
The 56-year-old Rauner, of course, could prove to be a totally different story.
He was a key player in bringing the education reform group "Stand for Children" to the state and has involved himself in education reform issues. He has described Illinois as being in a "death spiral" caused by "these knuckleheads who are mismanaging state government" and has said he's on a "listening tour" to decide whether to run.
In conventional political terms, Rauner has little going for him except a big bank account. He has no name recognition, no political experience, no background as a candidate and no political base from which to run.
But cash is a powerful force in politics, and his supply is unlimited.
Given the extent to which negative campaigning has come to dominate election races, he's become the X factor in the GOP gubernatorial race — one people may be hearing a lot more about in the coming months.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at email@example.com.