Dissecting the political campaign for governor
Several readers have asked me to comment on the increasingly nasty campaign for the Republican nomination for governor.
As a member of the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission (appointed by state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Dan Rutherford), I am prohibited from participating in politics. My observations here are about the nature of campaigns and of how such may be affecting the present gubernatorial race.
There are at least five principles of campaigns:
Trust and confidence are critical. That is, most citizens vote for the candidate in whom they have the most trust and confidence to do the right thing. Negative ads try to tear down trust and confidence in an opponent.
Raise enough money to be able to define both yourself and your opponent. The inability to define one or the other makes you vulnerable. With $8 million raised thus far, businessman Bruce Rauner is doing both. The other three candidates are not, for lack of money.
Negative ads work. People don't like them, but they are influenced by them. Disgraced ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich spent $23 million defining his worthy opponent in ugly terms and waltzed to victory. Did you vote for Rod Blagojevich?
Television ads move numbers. Previously unknown political neophyte Bruce Rauner has vaulted to the lead in the present gubernatorial primary race over three veteran candidates by inundating the airwaves with his spots (he is also doing lots of direct mail to GOP voters).
Newspaper endorsements help, a little. In close races where many voters are uncertain because of conflicting television ads, newspaper endorsements become a credible source of somewhat independent, thus useful information.
I see all of these campaign principles at play in this gubernatorial campaign.
Further, there are four basic resources in every campaign: money, people, skill and time. Each candidate brings varying amounts of each to the campaign.
Money is "the mother's milk of politics," said the late California Speaker of the House Jesse Unruh. Without significant amounts of money, a candidate for a major office has little chance of winning.
People used to be more important in campaigns than they are today. When was the last time you had a precinct committeeman call at your door to encourage you to vote for Joe Blow for governor?
During the era of significant patronage, when most government jobs were based on allegiance to a political party or party boss, government workers were expected to canvass their precincts in behalf of the party ticket.
Chicago Democratic Mayor Richard J. Daley perfected patronage politics during the 1950-60s. On election night, each precinct captain was called before Daley to report his precinct's vote. Woes betide the man (mostly men then) who failed to deliver strong votes for the mayor's slate of candidates.
Downstate, Kankakee County had a reputation for a Republican machine rivaling that of Daley and other urban bosses, but other downstate counties lacked the discipline of the Daley operation.
Today, with most patronage having been rooted out by federal court decisions, people are of less importance, other than maybe in presidential campaigns where a candidate like Barack Obama has been able to arouse large numbers to do precinct walking.
Skill refers to the capacity of the candidate, his or her strategists, and the campaign manager to devise and implement a winning plan.
Time is a finite, wasting resource. Effective placement of the candidate in the right places at the right times can be important to media coverage and for arousing interest in a campaign.
Statewide candidates in Illinois used to feel it imperative to campaign in each of the state's 102 counties. That nostrum went by the boards with the advent of television.
Today, candidates focus on being in the state's 10 major media markets (the cities with television stations) frequently, of which the Chicago market alone reaches about 70 percent of the state's viewers.
The rest of this campaign for governor will be played out in ads and candidate appearances emanating from the centers of these 10 media markets.
Jim Nowlan is a retired senior fellow with the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs and a former president of the Taxpayers' Federation of Illinois. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.