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Johnson says gubernatorial campaign will be ‘long, expensive, negative’

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Illinois residents can begin preparing for what might be the most expensive gubernatorial race in U.S. history, according to Monmouth College political science lecturer Robin Johnson.

“TV ads could start very soon,” said Johnson following Tuesday’s Illinois primary election. “It’s going to be long, expensive and negative.”

With victories in the primary by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrat J.B. Pritzker, Johnson said that “big money” won.

“Gov. Rauner spent about $50 million of his own money on the campaign, and Pritzker spent about $70 million,” he said. “This could become the most expensive governor’s race in history. It’s going to be an interesting dance, and it will be a nationally watched race, because it’s one of the Democrats’ best chances to pick up a governor’s mansion.”

Johnson was not surprised that the two candidates won their respective parties’ primaries, but he noted that Rauner’s winning margin of just four percentage points and 20,000 votes over challenger State Rep. Jeanne Ives was “a surprise for an incumbent.”

On the Democratic side, he thought Chris Kennedy, whom some “late deciders” were leaning toward, might make a strong push to defeat Pritzker. But Kennedy wound up third in the race, also finishing behind Daniel Biss.

Johnson said there were two other items of note from the primary.

“One was turnout,” said Johnson, who hosts the radio show Heartland Politics on KBUR-AM/FM in Burlington, Iowa. “Democrats nearly tripled their turnout from 2014, and nearly doubled the Republican turnout for this primary. That is often the case, as the party that’s not in the White House seems to be more fired up. It’s a trend we’re seeing in other states, and it continued in Illinois. The Democrats are more energized.”

Johnson said Illinois is also going to see a race of “historical significance” this fall, as two African-American candidates earned their party’s nomination for attorney general – Democrat Kwame Raoul and Republican Erika Harold. The November winner will replace Democrat Lisa Madigan, who decided not to seek a fifth term.