They've only just begun

They've only just begun

With close races for governor and Congress, Illinois should expect aggressive — and negative — campaigning until November.

Now that the primary races for governor are over, the main event begins, and one thing is clear — the race will be long, nasty, expensive and overwhelmingly negative in tone.

The themes of the campaigns are apparent, and you'll be hearing them incessantly over the next seven months. Political junkies may love it; others might want to head for cover.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, always the populist, portrays himself as a champion of the working class and paints his challenger, Winnetka venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, as a billionaire out of touch with the working men and women of Illinois who will push "the same anti-middle-class policies that got Illinois and the country into a mess in the first place."

Quinn is running ads attacking "billionaire Bruce Rauner" for opposing an increase in the state's minimum wage, now $8.25 an hour, and even saying at one point he would lower it to the federal level of $7.25.

Rauner paints Quinn as a failed governor whose policies have worsened Illinois' desperate financial situation and said he wants to "bring back Illinois" by giving working families a chance to raise their families in prosperity by lowering taxes, cutting spending and making Illinois friendlier to business.

"It's a choice between failure of the past and a new day, a bright future," Rauner said in his primary victory speech.

Rauner frequently calls Quinn "the worst governor in America." He campaigned heavily against government unions in the primary, although he has started to moderate that message, and says he wants to run the state more like a business.

Republicans judge Quinn as a weak, vulnerable governor and see this as their chance to recapture a post they haven't held for more than a decade.

Quinn points out that he inherited a mess when he took over for imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2009 and says he's made progress in righting the state's economy by getting a capital spending bill passed and signing pension reform legislation.

Early polls show Quinn and Rauner about even. And while Quinn is unpopular, especially downstate, he's a survivor and a tough campaigner, and it would be wrong to read too much into it this far ahead of the election.

Expect unions, fearing another Wisconsin-type fight if Rauner is elected, to fall in behind Quinn even though they've had major disagreements with him over pension reform and other issues.

Illinois does face many severe, complex economic problems — the nation's second-highest unemployment rate, a sputtering economy, a structural budget deficit, a massive backlog of unpaid bills. These have combined to diminish services to the citizens of Illinois.

Rather than a serious discussion of these problems, you can expect instead an angry campaign waged through television sound bites that more resembles class warfare than a political campaign.

We would much prefer a serious discussion of how to approach the many severe problems the state faces, but it probably won't happen.

That's partially because there are no easy answers and partially because these issues don't lend themselves to sound bites in television advertising, the way most campaigning in high-profile races is done these days.

Here in East Central Illinois, we get a bonus of sorts — another high-profile race that's high on the national radar and also will draw a lot of outside funding and negative campaigning.

The 13th Congressional District race between incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of Taylorville and his Democratic opponent, Ann Callis of Edwardsville, will be closely watched.

Democrats have been waiting for two years for the chance to run against Davis in the toss-up district since he barely eked out a victory in his last election, and in Callis, they think they have the candidate to defeat him.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already started running an online campaign to hold Davis accountable for what it says are 13 of his most egregious broken promises to voters.

And so it will go for the next seven months.

If you are not partial to this kind of campaigning, you might want to crawl under a rock for the next seven months. Or at least don't turn on your television after Labor Day, when the campaigns elevate to a fever pitch.

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