DECATUR — Despite some dreary-looking poll numbers in a tight race, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner struck an upbeat tone Sunday morning during a campaign stop in Decatur two days before the election.
Rauner, First Lady Diana Rauner and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti were all beaming smiles as they worked the tables and shook a sea of proffered hands at the Downtown Cafe, the visit part of a whistle-stop bus tour to win hearts and minds as Tuesday’s election looms.
Rauner knows that many polls are giving his 53-year-old Democratic rival, businessman J.B. Pritzker, as much as a double-digit lead, but he said the polls have gotten it all wrong before.
“I was trailing in most polls four years ago ... and I don’t think they are really accurate,” said the 62-year-old incumbent. “Everywhere I travel people say ‘Governor, you are on the right track.'”
A big part of that track is slamming Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, the longest-serving speaker of any legislative body in the history of the United States. Madigan has held the job for all but two years since 1983, and Rauner blames him for policies he said have stifled economic growth, pushed taxes and gerrymandered the state to guarantee Democratic legislative majorities.
“People say ‘Governor, stay strong, don’t give in. Madigan is the problem, he’s the one that has gotta go,’ ” Rauner said. “And a lot of times they will go on and say, ‘I am a Democrat, and I don’t normally support Republicans, but I love what you are trying to do.’ ”
Throughout the heated campaign, Rauner has continually tied Pritzker to Madigan and slammed both as corrupt, while Pritzker has criticized the incumbent as a "failed governor" responsible for many of the state's woes.
A big part of what Rauner said he wants to do with a second term is ease tax burdens in Illinois while creating half a million new jobs and getting term limits passed to end the reign of legislators such as Madigan.
He claims Pritzker, whom he admits is outspending him by some $100 million in the race, possibly the most costly gubernatorial contest in U.S. history, will work with legislative Democrats to push for $11 billion in new spending paid for with a vast new income tax hike. He urged supporters to get out and vote for the future they wanted.
“I think this is the most important election in our lifetimes,” he added.
Pritzker has said he will overhaul the state's income tax system to allow for a graduated tax rate that requires the wealthy to pay more, but has said the specific rates would be a matter for negotiations with lawmakers.
The Chicago Democrat on Sunday was supported by former President Barack Obama, who stumped for Pritzker and other Democrats during an appearance at the University of Chicago.
In Decatur, Rauner already had convinced Shirley and Jim Cairns from Mount Zion, diehard fans who came to the cafe to see him and definitely plan on voting for him. They don’t believe in the polls, either.
“He’s going to get it, he’s going to win,” said Shirley Cairns as her husband nodded in agreement. “He deserves it because of all the changes he’s made and the fact he’s made Illinois a better state.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.