September 16, 2013

Wealthy business executives eye political races

Instead of political skills or experience, they have chutzpah – and a lot of money.

By Thomas Beaumont / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Illinois Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner speaks to a gathering Republicans and business leaders at a stop on his Bring Back Illinois Tour in Quincy, Ill., in this July 9, 2013, photo. Rauner, a former finance executive who's worth close to $1 billion, is the star of a class of wealthy Republicans who take inspiration from Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who left the business world in 2010 to beat established Democrats in Democratic strongholds.


"Now, many of these folks turn out to be lousy candidates," said veteran national Republican strategist Charlie Black, adding, "but the ones with good political instincts and money have a leg up on the competition."

A native of Chicago with degrees from Dartmouth and Harvard, Rauner, 56, began campaigning a year and a half before election day, signing up top-tier consultants, running TV and radio ads and making appearances around the state.

For a meeting with businessmen in rural southern Illinois, the 6-foot-4 Rauner rolled up in his Harley Davidson Ultra Classic. His strong baritone made a microphone unnecessary as he delivered his stump speech in a series of bullet-points, much like a boardroom presentation.

"Unacceptable. Outrageous," he said, closing his assessment of Illinois schools.

He emphasizes his business background -- and his lack of political resume. In his field, "the measure of success is wealth creation for shareholders. And when you create wealth for shareholders, jobs get created and economic growth ensues," he said in an interview.

For a candidate seeking support, he comes on strong and can sometimes give offense.

"Have you met him? Did you get to talk?" former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar asked sardonically. Edgar has — and didn't.

Democrats have dominated Illinois for the past decade despite corruption scandals. The past three Republican nominees for governor were GOP establishment figures.

Some voters seem intrigued by a different GOP option.

"The status quo obviously isn't working," said Laura Donahue, a Republican who met Rauner in Quincy.

In the Republican field, Rauner will face former state Rep. Bill Brady, state Sen. Kirk Dillard and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to run for re-election, challenged by former White House Chief of Staff William Daley.

A major issue will be the state pension system, which is $100 billion in debt, and a state bond rating that is the nation's worst.

Can a rich businessman sell himself as a solution, even to Democratic voters.

Republican professionals are withholding judgment.

Voters "need to know, connect and like Bruce as a candidate," said Lisa Wagner, an influential Chicago-area fundraiser. "Otherwise, he is just another millionaire running for office."

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