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posted: 10/27/2017 5:30 AM

GOP dilemma after abortion bill surprise: Join Rauner or reject him?

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  • In happier times, Gov. Bruce Rauner appears with state Rep. Jeanne Ives. The Wheaton Republican is considering challenging Rauner in the March primary. Also pictured are state Sens. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove, left, and Michael Connelly of Lisle.

      In happier times, Gov. Bruce Rauner appears with state Rep. Jeanne Ives. The Wheaton Republican is considering challenging Rauner in the March primary. Also pictured are state Sens. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove, left, and Michael Connelly of Lisle.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2016

 
 

A traditional Republican stronghold where committeemen still walk precincts to get out the vote, Addison Township delivered a solid margin for Gov. Bruce Rauner three years ago.

Yet, the distaste in organizer Pat Durante's voice talking about Rauner's approval of state abortion coverage illustrates the splinters in the Republican Party as the governor seeks re-election in 2018.

"I'm disappointed," said Durante, a longtime aide to staunch abortion foe former U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde and Addison Township's GOP chairman. "It's a personal dilemma for me."

As Rauner launched his re-election bid this week, reactions in the suburbs to his pivot on abortion range from hard-core conservatives in revolt to pragmatists waving the specter of a Democrat in the governor's mansion to rally the lukewarm.

Among those seeking Rauner's ouster is Wheaton state Rep. Jeanne Ives, who told a downstate radio host last week she's exploring a gubernatorial bid. The conservative Republican said Rauner is "unelectable" after he signed a bill Sept. 28 that allows state health insurance and Medicaid funding for abortion.

Candidate Rauner supported increased coverage for abortions in 2014 but changed his mind in April, saying the state's focus should be the economy.

Fiscal worries such as crushing property taxes are a central issue for Lake County voters, said county Treasurer David Stolman of Buffalo Grove, who's optimistic straying Republicans will return to his party's fold in 2018.

"I'm hopeful at some point in time, people will come together and appreciate if you have a person you agree with most of the time, it's better than having someone you can't agree with at all," he said.

Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser galvanized volunteers to help give President Donald Trump the edge over Democrat Hillary Clinton two years ago in McHenry County.

But party loyalists now are "upset about the abortion issue, they're upset about the Trust Act," said Gasser, referring to a measure that prevents local police from arresting someone based on immigration status.

Still, the reality facing dissatisfied Republicans is, "who's got $1.4 billion to go up against Bruce Rauner?" Gasser said.

State Rep. Peter Breen of Lombard predicts a challenge but is dubious about whether it will be a viable one. Breen, recently named House Republican floor leader, had been mentioned as a possible challenger to Rauner, but he says he's happy in his current role.

"You've got to have seven figures in commitments" before taking on the billionaire businessman, said Breen, who sharply castigated Rauner for signing the abortion bill.

Now, "there's still a sense of shell shock even several weeks later," Breen said. "No one expects a Republican governor to impose taxpayer funding of abortions."

Rauner said at the time, "I believe that a woman living with limited financial means should not be put in a position where she has to choose something different from a woman of higher income would be able to choose."

Those words are going to galvanize conservatives against the governor, Rep. Steve Andersson is convinced.

"They feel betrayed and they should feel betrayed," he said. "He has alienated a lot of people."

"I don't know if that will cause them to vote for a Democrat ... but it might cause them to stay at home," the Geneva Republican said. "I see no excitement about the governor in the Republican ranks. The best argument is we have to vote for (Rauner) because of the remap in 2020," referring to the drawing of legislative districts based on the next census.

Northfield banker Joseph Gomez, who supported Rauner in 2014, said Republican voters need to give the governor some credit for opposing House Speaker Michael Madigan.

"He's done a yeoman's job to withstand this guy," said Gomez, appointed as an Illinois tollway director by Rauner. "He's not just fighting a political fight; he's fighting people that have been in control for 40 years."

And Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights recalled a 1990 primary between then-Gov. Jim Edgar and Steve Baer, an activist against abortion, that the incumbent won convincingly.

"Folks in the party say, 'Oh, this is (Rauner's) death knell, he'll never win.' I don't believe that," said Harris, who recently announced he will not seek re-election. "I do not believe you can build a gubernatorial campaign just on the abortion issue. ... It probably works to a great extent in a primary but not in a general election."

Forty years ago, Hyde crafted legislation restricting public funding for abortions. "If he was alive today ... Katie bar the door," Durante said.

So, will Addison Township Republicans get out the vote for Rauner come 2018?

"It's a day-by-day situation. The organization's going to have to make that call," Durante said.

• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.

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