JB Pritzker appears to have chosen a solid message for the fall campaign. The overall theme at the successful Democratic gubernatorial candidate’s press conference the day after he won the primary race was “Bruce Rauner is a failed governor.” The message is also the primary subject of his online advertising push against Rauner.
Not coincidentally, that’s pretty much the exact same message Rauner successfully used against former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn four years ago. “Pat Quinn failed.” Period. End of story. Whatever the question was, the answer was: “Pat Quinn failed.” When will you release your complete tax returns? “Pat Quinn failed.” What about the questions about your company’s business practices? “Pat Quinn failed.” What color is the sky? “Pat Quinn failed.”
Rauner avoided answering an awful lot of questions with that response back in the day. When he’s properly managed, the man knows how to stay on message, and it worked phenomenally well in 2014.
Gov. Rauner’s message since he’s taken office has been a variation of blaming House Speaker Michael Madigan. No budget? “Madigan.” State fairgrounds deteriorating? “Madigan.” Sky isn’t blue today? “Madigan.”
And because he’s stayed so perfectly on message, Rauner has completely framed the current political debate. What did Pritzker’s top two Democratic primary opponents use against the frontrunner the most? “Madigan.” What question does Pritzker get whenever a reporter interviews him? “Madigan?” Pritzker has to change the subject. He has the answer, but he’s just not using it yet. He’s still allowing Rauner to control the campaign.
“Obviously you’re going to keep getting asked about this,” I said to Pritzker hours after his post-election press conference to denounce Rauner as a failure. “The governor says you’re Madigan’s hand-picked candidate. The governor says if you win, Madigan will run the state. And you have said you’re going to be independent. But how?”
“Bruce Rauner’s got nothing else to talk about,” Pritzker replied. “He has for the last three and a half years, he’s tried to trash Democrats by throwing the Speaker at them.” And then he said, “I’ve been an independent leader my whole life. I don’t think that any of that sticks to me.”
OK, stop right there. Nobody in Voter Land has any clue whatsoever about Pritzker’s life. They mainly know what they see on TV. And for the next several months, the TV ads they’ll see will be about how Pritzker is Madigan’s corrupt stooge.
The “right” answer is: “Bruce Rauner’s got nothing else to talk about because he’s a failed governor.” If you’re going to have a campaign theme, then for crying out loud use it so incessantly that we all get completely sick and tired of hearing it. Then — and only then — will you know it’s working.
So, I asked Pritzker about this. I’ve heard more than one Democrat, I told him, who wished he would show more meanness. Does he believe he has what it takes to really take it to Rauner?
“I absolutely have what it takes to beat Bruce Rauner,” Pritzker said. “He’s an utter and complete disaster as a governor. I’m gonna make that clear.”
Then make it as clear as that with every answer to every question, man.