SPRINGFIELD (Heartland Newsfeed) — The amount of money raised for the 2018 Illinois gubernatorial primaries has already blown past the $100 million mark…and that’s with five months to go until the March 20 primary election. If you haven’t noticed, television ads have been airing for weeks on end in markets across the state.
Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner has already raised more than $72 million, which includes a $50 million contribution he made last December. Meanwhile, the favored candidate to win the Democratic primary, J.B. Pritzker, a businessman and wealthy heir to the Hyatt fortune, has devoted $28 million of his own money to the race so far.
Both men are facing primary challenges, but as far as fundraising is involved, both are easily fundraising far more than their rivals. Should the two end up head-to-head in the general election, political analysts are predicting record spending.
“It’s already pretty unprecedented,” said Sarah Brune, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which tracks money in political races and pushes for reform.
Big money in the 2018 election cycle isn’t limited to the top of the ticket – last year’s elections saw 23 General Assembly races top $1 million in fundraising, with only five races raising more than $5 million, according to University of Illinois Springfield emeritus professor Kent Redfield, who is tasked to track campaign spending. Redfield expects similar spending levels in 2018 as well and experts tend to agree.
Several races in Central Illinois are projected to see plenty of cash spent in this election cycle:
- The committee to re-elect Democratic state representative Sue Scherer (D-Decatur) in House District 96 currently has $113,522 on hand as of Sept. 30, based on the quarterly financial report submitted to the Illinois State Board of Elections. While no opponent has officially filed to run against Scherer in the Democratic primary, Springfield alderman Herman Senor and Springfield pastor Gary Pierce have announced their intent to run in the Republican primary. Senor’s committee from his Springfield City Council campaign still had $2,827 on hand as of Sept. 30, while no official committee is existed for Pierce. There are some rumblings of a potential Libertarian challenger, but nothing official as of publication.
- Four candidates have announced bids to replace outgoing state representative Bill Mitchell in House District 101 have already established their committees, but former Decatur city councilman Dan Caulkins has already begun to pull away from his Republican opponents with $25,982 on hand as of Sept. 30. Piatt County Board chairman Randy Keith has $7,300 on hand and Cerro Gordo School Board president Todd Henricks has $1,234 as of the end of the same quarter. There are some rumblings of a potential Libertarian challenger as well, but nothing official as of publication. The lone Democrat in the race, Decatur resident Jen McMillin, registered with ISBoE October 16 and no contributions were listed as of Thursday morning.
- While his seat in Senate District 48 is considered in play for Republicans, state senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) had $299,941 on hand, but has since received an additional $80,610, bringing his total to $380,551. Christian County GOP chairman Seth McMillan, a resident of Taylorville, announced his bid in early October to run against Manar, but no committee has been established with ISBoE as of Thursday. Christopher Hicks of Sawyerville announced he was also seeking the Republican nomination, but his committee listed no contributions or cash on hand as of Sept. 30. Jake Leonard, chairman of Tri-Counties Libertarian Party and Nokomis resident, is seeking to establish a committee for his Libertarian campaign for the seat.
Redfield points out the potential of a Pritzker candidacy, where typical Democrat funding sources are excited about the prospect of having more flexibility that is presented under a self-funder at the top of the ticket.
“That’s what makes Pritzker so compelling is he can self-fund, then people that are funding the Democrats’ legislative campaign are not forced to do triage,” he said.
Not everyone is a fan, of course, like Pritzker rival and current state senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), who has asked, “Are we going to have an election or an auction?”
Republicans broke the Democratic super-majority last fall, with help from spending by Rauner and a handful of allies fueling the cause, leading the seat in House District 71 to be won by Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) against Democrat Mike Smiddy, at the cost of $3.6 million, according to Redfield.
A prominent Senate seat in District 36 will be quite an important one, currently held by Neil Anderson (R-Andalusia), as Democrats will be in defense mode outside of the Chicagoland region, with this district being the exception. Anderson has already raised $422,000, where one of the two Democrats running in the primary, long-time union official Gregg Johnson, has raised roughly $18,000. As the parties and labor unions make their contributions, these figures will be much higher.
“I think the Republicans will spend a lot of money defending Anderson,” Redfield said.
Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois Springfield, also notes that there have been a number of Statehouse Republicans who have announced retirements, which opens up seats.
“It’s all there,” he said.
Lots of money at the top of the ticket is one thing, but Brune also said that campaigns down the ballot are getting more expensive, too.
It’s not just the money being shelled out for seats in the General Assembly, either. Local races this year also saw increased spending, notably in Aurora and Evanston, where mayors races were hotly contested.
Brune said some contests saw spending between $100,000 and $500,000.
“That’s a lot of money for a local race,” she said.