How Pritzker, Rauner campaign workers are sizing up the suburban vote

With days to go before Illinois' gubernatorial election, Democrat Kristina Zahorik and Republican Aaron Del Mar are planting lawn signs, running phone banks and walking suburban precincts like there's no tomorrow.

You can't take anything for granted in the bruising race between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrat J.B. Pritzker, said Del Mar, of Palatine, and Zahorik, of McHenry County.

"If our people come out and vote, we're going to win," predicts Del Mar, Palatine Township Republican Organization committeeman. "Right now, we've got to get our people to the polls."

McHenry County Democratic Party Chairwoman Zahorik has more requests for Pritzker lawn signs than she can fill. "There's a lot of enthusiasm and support for J.B.," she said.

The suburbs are crucial for both candidates in Tuesday's election, as evidenced by numerous appearances by Chicagoan Pritzker, a Hyatt hotel heir, and Rauner, a Winnetka venture capitalist. The suburbs generated 44 percent of ballots cast in Illinois in the 2014 governor's race.

Naperville Mayor and Republican Steve Chirico hosted Rauner at his business in January. He's hopeful Pritzker's push for a progressive income tax will galvanize GOP voters to rally around Rauner.

"I think largely people who supported Rauner previously still do," Chirico said. "I do."

One town away, political science major Arenthia Mosso is busy registering voters at Benedictine University in Lisle. "J.B. is very open to minorities. He has a good, personal connection with young adults like myself," said Mosso, vice president of the Benedictine University College Democrats.

A probe into whether Pritzker improperly obtained a $331,000 property tax break on a Chicago mansion in 2016 and a recent discrimination lawsuit by former campaign workers have dogged the rookie candidate.

But Downers Grove retiree Dorothy Smith, who's phone-banking for Pritzker, doesn't believe the accusations.

"This is about trying to put him down so Rauner can win," Smith said.

Rauner faces criticism over two years of budget stalemate as well as his handling of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak downstate and pollution from a Willowbrook factory.

"Personally, I think the governor has received a bad rap over the last few years," said Elmhurst Republican Paul Darley, who in July showed Rauner around his fire equipment plant in Itasca

Polls have shown Pritzker ahead and - if lawn signs are any indication - "it doesn't look very good for the governor," Darley said. But he noted that "it didn't look very good for (President Donald) Trump, either," in 2016.

Experts agree that referendums and white-hot congressional races, such as in the 6th District between GOP Rep. Peter Roskam and Democrat Sean Casten, will draw voters to the polls. Already there appears to be a surge in early voting, local officials said.

"I would not be shocked if there's a higher voting percentage ... in those contested (congressional) districts than in people voting for governor," longtime Democrat and former state Sen. Bill Morris of Grayslake predicted.

Meanwhile, national events such as the Oct. 27 synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the fight over Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation and the love-him/hate-him Trump factor are playing out here.

While Darley observed that Kavanaugh's nomination invigorated some Republicans, Libertyville Township Republican Chairman Ray Lester said issues such as gun control are splitting the party.

"In Libertyville, the president is very unpopular," Lester said. He described a "schism" among Republicans that could hurt Rauner among the GOP base. Because Rauner is moderate on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, "a lot of those people may not vote for him," Lester said.

Morris thinks the odds as of last week favor Pritzker, "but his dancing on positions might come back to bite him." One of those issues is the extension of Route 53, which Pritzker is neutral on, Morris said.

The fact that both men are extremely wealthy is a turnoff for some voters, Morris thinks. "I don't think people are excited about the race for governor."

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Paul Darley, president of W.S. Darley & Co., introduces Gov. Bruce Rauner and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti to his employees in Itasca in July. Daily Herald File Photo, July 2018
Democrat J.B. Pritzker greets people at the Aurora Puerto Rican Day Parade during a campaign stop this summer. Courtesy of J.B. Pritzker
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