CHICAGO -- The candidates for Illinois governor kicked off the post-Labor Day campaign season Tuesday, with Gov. Pat Quinn publicizing his efforts to live on a minimum wage budget and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner hammering the Chicago Democrat's record on veterans.
With roughly two months until the November contest, the candidates are expected to ramp up efforts in one of the most competitive governor's races nationwide.
Rauner, a venture capitalist, said Quinn administration's policies, including not doing enough to boost economic growth, have indirectly led to higher joblessness among veterans. He also claimed patronage hiring left out job applicants who were veterans. He didn't give an estimate of how many or provide specific examples.
"He's failing the veterans of Illinois very badly," Rauner said of Quinn. "The corruption, the cronyism, the patronage that is rampant in Springfield ... disproportionately impacts veterans."
Quinn's campaign called the allegations the "latest falsehood to be pushed by Bruce Rauner." Quinn often calls veterans issues among his top priorities, attending funerals of slain Illinois soldiers and advocating for state programs helping veteran homeowners.
"Our state has the most veteran-friendly programs in the country," he told reporters Tuesday.
Veterans, particularly younger ones, have faced higher unemployment rates than the general population across the country.
Rauner's focus Tuesday was part of the announcement of a veterans' coalition supporting him, including Republicans U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, a Navy veteran, and U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a former Air Force pilot. They noted Rauner's personal donations to an organization that helps veterans. Still, Kirk noted Quinn's visits to soldier funerals as "admirable."
Raising the minimum wage has been one of Quinn's re-election themes, as he's tried to focus his bid for a second full term on issues affecting working people and portray Rauner as an out of touch multimillionaire.
His campaign hammered that theme Tuesday, noting Rauner's confirmation of membership to a private wine club that costs up to $140,000 for an initiation fee. The wine club was first reported by the Chicago Tribune, which used a photograph from the Montana Pioneer newspaper.
"I have many investments, and I'm a member of many clubs," he said Tuesday.
Quinn detailed his efforts to spend on a minimum wage budget this week.
He has vowed not to spend more than $79 for food and other expenses for seven days. His campaign said the amount was a calculated average that a minimum wage worker earning Illinois' $8.25 rate would spend on such expenses. It doesn't include transportation or housing costs; Quinn uses a state-funded car service.
He's documented attempts on social media, saying he gave his niece only $1 for her birthday along with a homemade card. While eating out, he's opted for water over ordering drinks, and fast-food meals have included smaller burgers.
"You have to watch your pennies," he said. "I had graham crackers for dinner."
Legislative attempts to raise Illinois' wage have gained little traction. Illinois voters will see a nonbinding question on the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Rauner's claims about Quinn and veterans come as hiring at Quinn's Department of Transportation has been under scrutiny.
The state's Office of the Executive Inspector General found last month that there were improper hires over the last decade at IDOT, and a federal lawsuit has called for an investigation into patronage hiring at the agency. The Quinn administration responded by saying it would lay off 58 people whose jobs were at the center of the controversy.