Facing three seasoned officeholders and vigorously attacked by a mean-spirited independent campaign fueled by labor unions, Bruce Rauner still emerged the winner Tuesday night in Illinois' Republican gubernatorial primary.
In capturing 40 percent of the vote, compared to 37 percent for state Sen. Kirk Dillard in the four-candidate race, Rauner — multimillionaire venture capitalist and first-time candidate — fueled Republican hopes of unseating Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn this fall.
In the last poll conducted before the voting, a We Ask America survey of likely voters showed Rauner defeating Quinn — who as lieutenant governor succeeded disgraced Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2009 — by a margin of 47 percent to 39 percent.
So fractious was the primary that many state and national GOP leaders worried that the nominee would never be able to heal the wounds and overtake Quinn, whose renomination was assured last year when former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Bill Daley abandoned a bid for the Democratic nod.
But signs are strong that the Republican Party is uniting behind Rauner, who spent $14 million on his primary campaign.
Dillard promptly congratulated Rauner, as did the two other GOP hopefuls: state Sen. Bill Brady, the 2010 nominee for governor, and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford.
Dillard benefited from an independent expenditure that hit hard at Rauner for contributing substantial campaign dollars to liberal Democrats and his non-conservative stands on social issues such as abortion.
Run by Steve Shearer, former top aide to Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., the anti-Rauner Republican Fund for Progress and Jobs was funded in large part by labor unions, including the Operating Engineers.
Public employee unions also weighed in on the independent efforts that slammed Rauner for his work in advancing charter schools and his promise to "shake up the status quo" and "go after government union bosses."
But there was no evidence of government employees crossing over to vote for Dillard — which he openly encouraged — except in the state capital county of Sangamon, where Dillard won by 63 percent, compared to 17 percent for Rauner.
"The Chicago collar counties, including Dillard's home suburban county of DuPage, were the key factor in Rauner's narrow victory," veteran elections analyst Jay O'Callaghan told Newsmax. "Rauner won DuPage County by 46 [percent] to 39 [percent]."
"Dillard could have won even with a slight lead in his suburban home area, but instead he lost," O'Callaghan said. Dillard was also demolished by 50 percent for Rauner to 34 percent for Dillard in neighboring Cook County, which is mostly a suburban vote in the GOP primary.
He also pointed out that "Dillard, candidate of the moderate Republican establishment, failed to run up a big enough lead in conservative downstate counties as two more conservative candidates [Brady and Rutherford] received 29 percent there."
Admirers of Rauner likened him to Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, another businessman who defeated several officeholders for the GOP nomination in 2010 and campaigned on a promise to govern with business acumen and change the way government worked.
"Bruce Rauner's message was that he was a businessman running against three career politicians, with 60 years of experience in office between them," conservative Ed Petka, former state Senate GOP whip, told Newsmax.
"It was an effective message, and his nomination shows what happens when a candidate takes a position and stays with it."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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