Rauner's good ideas won't be enough to stave off challenge from a Kennedy

Posted2/14/2017 1:00 AM

At this point -- 21 months before Election Day 2018 -- I'd say that Chris Kennedy has the lead over Bruce Rauner in the race for governor of Illinois.

True, there haven't been any publicly released poll numbers, but I'm sure the Kennedy strategists have their own numbers and they are encouraged by what they show.


Kennedy is likely to be unopposed in the Democrat primary unless one of two types of unknown challengers joins the battle. One of those challengers would be an African-American (male or female) who is convinced that the time is now -- in Illinois -- for a black person to follow in the footsteps of Barack Obama. The other would be a white woman who has already established herself on the political stage in Chicago or Springfield -- or maybe both -- and is being pushed by the women's movement in Illinois. That movement, by the way, is large and it is strong.

There are some names floating about. But it is hard to imagine Illinois Democrats passing up someone with the magic name "Kennedy" -- and not just some "Kennedy" -- this is one from the "real" Kennedy family (son of Robert who, like his brother President John F. Kennedy, was gunned down).

Chris Kennedy seems to have a good reputation, a clean slate, and solid Illinois ties. Almost "roots" in Illinois. His children were born in Illinois.

Saying he "has lived a somewhat normal life for a member of a political dynasty," The Washington Post recently noted one of Kennedy's first jobs was as "a small-time buyer of corn and soybeans with Archer Daniels Midland."

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It should be noted that while working for Decatur-based Archer Daniels Midland, Kennedy actually lived in, or worked out of Decatur, and spent time in Peoria also. He has lived in Illinois since 1986.

There is no doubt Kennedy will be able to attract national campaign support. Democrats all over the country will be anxious to pick off an incumbent Republican governor in a state they think they should own.

While at Boston College, Kennedy met Sheila Sinclair-Bernier, an Illinois native. He graduated from BC in 1986 and they were married in 1987. They live in Kenilworth and have four children, Katherine, Christopher, Sarah and Clare. His wife has a law degree and practiced at Sidley-Austin in Chicago.

There is likely to be -- certain to be -- national attention and national money focused on and directed to Kennedy.

Rauner just may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. To be sure, he had (and has) a plan and an agenda that would have made a major step -- or steps -- toward solving Illinois' politically created economic crisis. To his credit, Rauner has been attempting to fix that problem but his plans and his pleas are drowned out by a lot of noise.


And the majority of Illinois voters don't seem to want to listen to someone who has good ideas and a plan that's as good as is possible to start turning Illinois around.

Rauner is in trouble, and he certainly knows that. And Donald Trump is not helping him. Not one bit, at least not yet. Rauner has been wise to maintain some distance from Trump but the governor must be able to work with -- or at least talk to -- the president.

But Illinois voters are going to ask, "What has Rauner done for Illinois?" And while many Illinois voters realize the challenges the governor faces with a hostile and well-entrenched speaker of the House -- who has a control unlike any other speaker in 49 states or in the U.S. Congress -- they are likely to think that a Kennedy might be the best choice in 2018.

But for Republicans who may be sharpening the wrist-slitting knives with this prognosis, there may be some bright spots. One is that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, now in his mid-70s, may decide to end his political career, especially if it would help Kennedy win.

With Madigan gone, any new speaker -- Democrat or Republican -- would set the framework for a different Illinois -- and an Illinois that a new governor, and new legislative leaders, could shape into a much more promising state.

Ed Murnane, edmurnane@gmail.com, of Arlington Heights, is retired president of the Illinois Civil Justice League and a former staff member for presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

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