Minority of One blog

Rauner is GOP's moderate hope

Bruce Rauner

Bruce Rauner prepares for an Illinois Republican Governor debate at WGN-TV in Chicago on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (Chris Sweda/ Chicago Tribune) (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune / March 5, 2014)

Illinois Republicans often have trouble gaining statewide office because of an old problem: Candidates who are conservative enough to win GOP primaries are too conservative to win general elections, and candidates moderate enough to win general elections can't win their primaries. The largely unnoticed fact about this year's race for governor is that the party seems poised to give the nomination to someone who is more centrist than right-wing.

I'm referring to wealthy businessman Bruce Rauner, who has been leading in the polls for a long time. Rauner has an aggressive style and some sharp-edged positions that appeal to conservatives, particularly his fervent support for greater school choice and his blunt attacks on "union bosses." He also talks their talk on making Illinois more business-friendly.

But his deviations from party orthodoxy are there for anyone who's paying attention. He declines to state a position on same-sex marriage, saying voters should decide it. He is pro-choice on abortion. Yesterday he was alone at a debate in refusing to rule out ending Illlinois' exemption of retirement income from taxation. He is willing to raise the minimum wage under certain conditions.

Rauner's relative moderation ordinarily would be a big handicap in seeking the nomination for governor. But his vast campaign war chest and the weakness of his rivals have canceled it out. If he wins, he'll be well-positioned to go after independent and even Democratic voters in the fall campaign.

A well-funded opponent is something for Pat Quinn and his party to worry about. A well-funded opponent who can appeal to the center could be their worst nightmare.

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