Current incumbent Pat Quinn, a Democrat who went from lieutenant governor to governor following Rod Blagojevich's 2009 impeachment, is facing re-election in 2014. Quinn ran for, and won, a full term in 2010 and is running for his second full four-year term. According to multiple outside ratings, Quinn is among the most vulnerable governors in the 2014 electoral cycle.
Quinn's 2010 running-mate and first term incumbent Lt. Gov Sheila Simon (D) announced in February 2013 that she would not run for re-election in 2014. Simon said she wanted to seek a new office that would allow her to have a "greater impact," and later declared her candidacy for state comptroller. Simon's thinly veiled swipe at the office's unsatisfactory "impact" potential was followed shortly thereafter by the Illinois House of Representatives' approval of a proposal seeking to eliminate the position of lieutenant governor altogether by constitutional amendment. In order for the measure to be passed, it must win approval of both the State Senate and Illinois voters. If the proposal is approved in a statewide public vote, the office will remain intact for one final term following the 2014 election. Quinn said he wanted “a people person” to replace Simon, and ultimately settled on former Chicago public schools chief Paul Vallas.
The 2014 electoral cycle marked the first time in Illinois history that candidates for the offices of governor and lieutenant governor ran on a single ticket in the primary election phase. Spurred by the 2010 election fiasco when Democratic nominee for lt. governor Scott Lee Cohen had to drop out of the race after being arrested on charges of steroid use and domestic battery, the new joint ticket rule was enacted to support the notion of a critical governor-lieutenant governor partnership. In theory, allowing governor hopefuls to hand pick their running mates for the primary would induce the campaigns to "better define their priorities for voters and cover more ground as election season gets underway."
As of September 2014, Illinois is one of 13 Democratic state government trifectas. The biggest threat to Quinn winning re-election, then, was expected to have come courtesy of his fellow Democrats, namely William "Bill" Daley, a past U.S. Commerce Secretary and White House chief of staff and attorney general Lisa Madigan. But by September 2013, Quinn had dodged both bullets: First, Madigan, who had been expected to enter the primary race, announced that she would instead seek re-election to her current post. After brief consideration, Daley, "a member of Chicago's first political family," for his relation to two of Chicago's longest-reigning mayors, abruptly withdrew his bid for the Democratic nomination after a promising first stretch. His departure marked a veritable coup for Quinn, whose bleak re-election prospects improved considerably in the absence of a strong primary challenge.
Quinn is the fifth out of a total of forty-six previous Illinois lieutenant governors to have succeeded to the governorship mid-term. As governor, Quinn has emphasized improving the state government's ethical standards and protecting public-sector labor unions. His tenure thus far has been marred by steep, deeply unpopular budget cuts and tax increases stemming from long-term state debt among other issues that have factored into his status among the least popular governors facing re-election in 2014.
Primary review, cross-party vote phenomenon
On September 3, individuals aiming to qualify for a slot on the March 2014 primary ballot began gathering signatures. The filing period for major party primary candidates ended on December 2, 2013, with only one Democrat, Tio Hardiman, filing to go up against Quinn. Candidates from the Republican end included state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, state treasurer Dan Rutherford and venture capitalist Bruce Rauner. Early polls showed Rutherford as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, but Rauner rocketed ahead of the pack by November 2013 and maintained a 15-point average lead up to the March primary, which he won.
A newcomer to politics, Rauner achieved the name recognition he needed to overcome his more established opponents with the help of massive campaign contributions totaling nearly $14 million, including $6 million of his own money, the highest amount a candidate has ever spent on his own primary campaign for governor in Illinois.
Unofficial results from the March 18 primaries revealed some steep deviations from typical voting behaviors recorded in past elections. Based on the breakdown of votes in the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial primaries provided by the Chicago Tribune on election night, Ballot Access News analyzed what appeared to be a spectacularly low turnout of Democratic voters (438,112 votes) in the party's contested, albeit only nominally, primary. They detected that hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters must have taken advantage of the state's mixed-hybrid primary system to vote the Republican ballot instead of their own. Under Illinois' primary rules, voters can change parties each year but must declare a party affiliation at the polls. Depending on which party is chosen, the voter will then be counted as registered for that party. Voters may change party affiliation at polls or caucus.
The mass cross-over by Democrats was linked to one specific issue highlighted in this year's GOP governor's race: government employee unions. Most of the Democrats who participated in the Republican primary did so in order to ensure Kirk Dillard, who has sided with the unions in the state senate, would lose to Bruce Rauner, who has promised to curtail union influence.
In Illinois, the last time more votes were cast in the Republican than the Democratic gubernatorial primary was 1986; not since the 1940's have so few votes been cast in a Democratic gubernatorial primary election. Compared to the last five Illinois gubernatorial elections, there was no significant spike in Republican votes this year, indicating the trend reversal was caused by a tremendous drop in Democratic gubernatorial primary votes cast.
- Governing Politics, "2013-2014 Governor's Races: Who's Vulnerable?," December 11, 2012
- Chicago Tribune, "Simon will not run again for lieutenant governor," February 13, 2013
- Chicago Magazine, "What Happens After Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon Quits Pat Quinn’s Team," March 26, 2013
- The Chicago Tribune, "House votes to eliminate lieutenant governor post," April 12, 2013
- CBS Local - Chicago, "2014 Governor Candidates To Choose Running Mates," August 24, 2013
- Capitol Fax, "This just in… Lisa Madigan announces re-election bid," July 15, 2013
- Governing, "William Daley Considering Bid for Illinois Governor," December 21, 2012
- Chicagobusiness.com, "Daley files paperwork for governor run," June 10, 2013
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- New Jersey Herald, "Daley: Exit from race doesn't mean I couldn't win," September 17, 2013
- St. Louis Today, "Illinois Gov. Quinn 2nd least popular incumbent going into 2014," April 9, 2013
- CapitolFax.com, "Capitol Fax/We Ask America Poll - Poll shows Rauner movement," July 8, 2013
- Crain's Chicago Business, "How Bruce Rauner won the GOP primary," March 19, 2014
- Peoria Public Radio, "How the self-funding of Rauner's campaign is impacting the race for Governor," March 12, 2014
- Chicago Tribune, "Election Calendar, Primary Results," last updated March 18, 2014
- Ballot Access News, "Shockingly Low Turnout in Illinois Democratic Primary Suggests Many Democrats Voted in Republican Primary," March 20, 2014