Editorial | Unlimited spending

Editorial | Unlimited spending

How much is enough? Gubernatorial candidates are afraid to try to find out.

It's long been conventional thinking that this year's gubernatorial race in Illinois will be one of the most expensive in history, if not the most expensive.

With two self-funded candidates — multimillionaire Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and billionaire Chicago businessman J.B. Pritzker — how could it be otherwise?

Then-private-citizen Rauner became an active candidate on the GOP side as the 2014 election approached, using his money and message ("Shake Up Springfield") to overwhelm the Republican Party in the primary election and then narrowly win the general election over Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

Democrat Pritzker did the same thing this year, using his ample campaign treasury to win the favor of party bosses like state party chairman and House Speaker Michael Madigan. Ultimately, Pritzker ran away with the party nomination, and he plans to do the same thing in the general election against Rauner.

Illinois being an overwhelmingly Democratic state, Pritzker's chances look pretty good against a Republican incumbent whose agenda has been rejected in toto by a Democrat-controlled Legislature.

But the game still has to play out, and anything can happen. After all, Pritzker is a novice politico who has never run before and never held public office. He can — and likely will — make mistakes the GOP opposition will try to exploit.

But a bit of news leaked out from Pritzker's campaign this week that is sure to surprise political handicappers and, according to Politico, "rattle Rauner."

When it comes to Pritzker's political spending, Illinoisans apparently haven't seen anything yet.

Politico writer Natasha Korecki quoted an anonymous Pritzker campaign aide as vowing to double whatever Rauner spends.

"For every dollar he spends, we're ready to spend two," Korecki quoted her source as saying.

That kind of approach will put permanent smiles on the faces of television and radio advertising everywhere. (By the way, do campaign operatives realize how effective political advertising in newspapers can be?)

One guy — Rauner — has an unlimited budget. Now the other guy — Pritzker — has an unlimited budget that is twice Rauner's unlimited budget.

If that comes to pass, voters are really going to be tired of the slash-and-burn advertisements that will fill the airwaves as the November election draws near.

Rauner, of course, deserves no sympathy in being potentially outspent. Campaign spending is a two-edged sword. Pritzker is only attempting to do in 2018 what Rauner did in 2014.

But the numbers are staggering.

Politico reports that the two have combined to spend more than $200 million in this year's race. In addition to spending on their own campaigns, both candidates are subsidizing their party's efforts.

News reports assert that Rauner has made another $7.5 million in donations to the state GOP. Pritzker has pumped at least $5 million into Democratic Party organizations throughout Illinois. Pritzker is financing what he hopes will be a "Blue Wave" that will help all party candidates. In other words, he wants to paint a blue state even more blue.

The question, of course, is what the candidates will get out of what they spend. Surely, there's a point at which more spending doesn't produce more votes.

But just where is that point of no return on investment? Most candidates are afraid to try to find out, leaving no available dollar unspent.

So batten down the hatches. Plug in your seat belts. Put on the protective head gear.

The candidates are not just off and running, but preparing to bludgeon voters into submission with an unprecedented volume of attacks. It won't be pretty, but it will be loud.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion