Losses for Democrats Nationally and in Obama’s Home State

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November 5, 2014; Chicago Tribune

Even in Obama’s home state, Democrats lost two key elections. For governor, Bruce Rauner, a social moderate and wealthy businessman, beat incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn. Additionally, in Illinois’ 10th congressional district, one-term Democrat Bruce Schneider lost in a rematch against Republican Robert Dold, who previously held the seat and served as aide to Senator Mark Kirk when he represented that district. These losses came after many visits from leading Democrats, including Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, and even President Obama himself.

Although Governor Quinn continued to hold out hope until late Wednesday night, Bruce Rauner declared victory on Tuesday at 10:30 local time. The victory ends twelve years of one-party rule in Illinois and caps a campaign that set a record in political fundraising. Throughout the campaign, Rauner showcased his business expertise and used over $26.1 million of his own wealth to power his campaign’s many negative advertisements. Together, the candidates spent over $100 million.

Rauner also leaned on his wife, Diane Rauner, to persuade married women to leave the Democrat party and vote for him. Ms. Rauner is the president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, though she does not draw a salary. The statewide organization with a budget of almost $50 million advocates for preschool for Illinois’ low income children.

Dold held the congressional seat representing the northern suburbs of Illinois from 2010-2012. The district was redrawn before the 2012 election. Dold does not currently live in the district, though he vows he will before he takes office.

Both Rauner and Dold identify themselves as moderates on social issues, including abortion, minimum wage, and gun control. But nonprofit organizations will not find much comfort or funding, as the Illinois economy remains weak. To make matters worse, Illinois’ unfunded pension liability is at an estimated $100 billion, and many economists place the figure at two to three times higher.

In the spring, Rauner funded a failed campaign to place a non-binding referendum on the fall ballot limiting state lawmakers to eight years in office. The initiative was focused on shifting the power in the Illinois legislature, since Democrats hold a large majority in both houses. State voters did have the opportunity to weigh in on four other referendums, including a successful nonbinding measure to raise the state’s minimum wage.

Rauner also has a history of supporting school choice and charter schools. This movement has led to low-income children becoming the new majority of those attending Illinois public schools. According to a new report from the Illinois State Board of Education, there were more children receiving free or reduced price lunch in the 2013-2014 school year than those not receiving this support. This is due to the growing number of suburban and downstate children living in poverty. Similar trends are seen in many Southern and Western states as well.

In a signal of the continued difficulties in the state, an immediate question for state leaders is whether they will let the Illinois income tax rate drop to 3.75 percent from five percent. The tax increase is scheduled to expire on Jan 1st, two weeks before Gov. Rauner takes office.—Gayle Nelson