Illinois Republican state Representative Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) and sitting Illinois GOP Governor Bruce Rauner met for the first time as opponents Monday as Rauner fights to win re-election.
Rauner is heavily favored in the early polls. But by many accounts, the meeting ended in favor of the challenger.
Rauner defied the odds in 2014 by winning office as a Republican in the deep blue state. But in his first four-year term, he courted controversy by breaking a string of promises to voters, including a key promise not to expand state funding on abortions. The many failures spurred state Rep. Ives to challenge him in the upcoming March 20 gubernatorial primary.
The candidates met on January 29 in a de facto debate in the offices of the Chicago Tribune — Rauner has declined actual debates — as the two faced questions put to them by the paper’s editorial board.
Tribune columnist John Kass wrote that Ives “crushed” the sitting governor, as the two made their case before the board.
“Rauner is a tough guy, a man who’s made hundreds of millions of dollars in business deals. He made his own money, took his own risks, and he ran for governor in 2014 because the state was sinking,” Kass wrote. “But on Monday, judging just from his eyes and body language after debating Ives — a West Point graduate — Rauner looked like a man who’d been whipped.”
So #JeanneIves just crushed #GovBruceRauner at @chicagotribune debate. How? You'll have to read my column when it's finished. But I'm just starting to write. I don't see him debating her again in #IllinoisGOP gubernatorial primary. #twill pic.twitter.com/XBRbg3vLFU
— John Kass (@John_Kass) January 29, 2018
In an unusual confluence of events, the paper’s left-wing columnist, Eric Zorn, agreed with his more conservative colleague by saying that Ives “beat” Rauner in the debate.
Ives rose to challenge her party’s siting governor over a list of Rauner’s broken promises, perhaps the worst of which was his signing of a bill that forces Illinois taxpayers to fund abortions — despite his claim that he is “pro-life” and in the face of his promise never to sign such a bill.
Despite the fact that Rauner is a sitting governor, members of his party are turning against him in increasing numbers. As the conservative Illinois Review blog reported, Ives has received the endorsement of over a dozen state representatives, state senators, and state GOP organizations.
“We’re talking with Republican voters that — if they know the issues and know what has happened in Springfield – they want new leadership. They want a new standard-bearer for our party,” state Rep. Tom Morrison (R-Palatine) said at January 24 press conference, where he revealed his support for Ives.
After Monday’s editorial board meeting, one of the state’s biggest GOP donors, businessman Richard Uihlein, announced that he was abandoning Gov. Rauner, and presented Ives with a half-million-dollar contribution.
“Across the state, Republicans know that the revolution they were promised in 2014 will not be delivered by Bruce Rauner. We are going to come together and defeat Bruce Rauner. Then, with the help of those with me today, we will deliver the revolution Illinoisans were promised in 2014,” Ives said during the Jan. 24 presser.
Few watchers of Illinois politics expect Gov. Rauner to agree to meet Rep. Ives in a formal primary debate. — especially after their first meeting ended so much in Ives’ favor.
Watch the debate below (courtesy of the Tribune via Facebook):
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.