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2018 Midterms

In the Hot Seat: Democrats Are Ready for Change in Illinois

An interesting start to Spring in Springfield.

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Incumbent governor Bruce Rauner thought he had his primary election in the bag.

For months, he has been writing off challenger Jeanne Ives, a Trump-brand conservative state legislator, as a “fringe candidate.” But in the end, Rauner ended up just barely defeating Ives in a nail biting election that brought both hope and disappointment to Democrats.

Billionaire JB Pritzker captured the Democratic nomination for governor with ease, despite a facing a strong challenger in state senator Daniel Biss. To many, Pritzker and his nearly $70 million receipt for personal wealth spent in the primary is the antithesis of everything that a progressive party should stand for.

Truly, a candidate that can spend such an egregious amount of money without so much as a second thought will never be able to represent the average person. But, Pritzker’s victory and the excitement surrounding his capabilities of defeating Rauner in November proves how broken the Illinois political system is. That being said, Democrats must form a coalition around Pritzker and defeat Rauner and his allies in the general election no matter the cost.

And the voter turnout numbers show that the left is more than ready for the challenge.

Over one million Democrats cast a ballot in the primary election. In contrast, turnout for Republicans was quite low at just over 700,000.  If anything, this proves that the political left is excited about the chance to take back Illinois. Rauner’s do-nothing tenure as governor as well as the nationwide call for a blue wave has created motivation across the state to create a movement that helps liberals take back the Land of Lincoln from the Republican Party as soon as possible.

Pritzker is hardly an example of an anti-establishment candidate. He likely won’t offer much beyond the normal party standards. But if elected as governor, he will get Illinois back on the right track. Daniel Biss garnering 26 percent of the vote may be the closest that Illinois gets to a progressive governor for now, but that does not mean that the message his candidacy sent will go away. More importantly, it has been made clear that Bruce Rauner’s days in office are numbered. While the Democratic Party can wish the name on the ballot were different, the goal has always been to defeat the Republican governor. While the amount of money spent on this election will be sickeningly absurd, sitting this race out and not casting a ballot would be even more appalling.

Rauner’s unpopularity with Democrats did not need to be proven, but his failure attract significant support within his own party is surprising. Ives ran one of the most offensive campaign ads of all time, but even that was not enough to help Rauner run away with a victory.

This shows some very important realities.

Rauner is going to have to unite the two sections of the divided Republican party. Clearly, if someone that is as despicable as Ives can get over 300,000 votes, there is a significant section of the party that wants a Trump-like figure in Springfield. To his credit, Rauner is simply not this type of a conservative and won’t likely be able to rally a significant portion of these voters to his side.

The governor will have to deal with segments of his own party that cannot stand him as well as an energetic Democratic base that actually showed up at the polls. This could prove too much for the incumbent to deal with and send him packing come November.

As progressives in Illinois move towards Pritzker, they too will need to accept that this is an imperfect reality that is more discouraging than it is inspiring. But the results of the primary election prove that Democrats are much closer to uniting than the Republicans.

Electing a Democratic governor would be enormous for Illinois and its future. Its failure as a state did not begin under Rauner’s tenure, but he accelerated it quite a bit.

As liberals look to fix Illinois, there is simply only one option: Bruce Rauner must be voted out of office. And it seems as though the Democrats are ready for the challenge.

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Lauren Grimaldi is a senior political science student at Roosevelt University in Chicago. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the Roosevelt Torch, the school's student run newspaper. When she graduates in May, she hopes to find work in policy reform, political campaigns, or writing. Follow her on Twitter @laurengrimaldi_ to learn more about her obsession with politics and baseball.

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