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Retail merchants reject endorsement of Rauner, Pritzker

October 10, 2018

As the November election looms, interest groups and newspaper endorsements are rolling in, but not all of them are pleased with the choices on the ballot.

In the race for Illinois governor, there have been some surprise endorsement choices, including a business group deciding neither incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner nor Democrat J.B. Pritzker were worthy of endorsement. But, just how much do these seals of approval affect a candidate’s fortunes at the ballot?

Gov. Bruce Rauner has been saying he has the endorsement of every business group in the state in his run for re-election. As of Friday, that’s no longer the case.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association represents more than 20,000 stores across the state. Like in 2014, the association decided that neither Rauner nor his challenger, then Pat Quinn and now J.B. Pritzker, deserved the group’s endorsement.

“Unfortunately, neither candidate’s approach struck the right balance in sustainably moving the state forward and supporting the state’s second largest GDP producer for the state of Illinois,” said IRMA CEO Rob Karr. “IRMA will, as it always has, work in a positive, consensus building manner with the next administration and their team no matter who is elected.”

In the past, IRMA has endorsed both Democrats and Republican gubernatorial candidates. It also had abstained from making endorsements.

IRMA noted Pritzker’s “stated desire to work with all parties” but raised concerns about his “advocacy for issues that would add significantly to the cost of doing business and the impact these issues, combined with increased taxes, would have on retailers and the consumers they serve.”

IRMA questioned Rauner’s ability to get things done.

“Gov. Rauner was recognized for his heartfelt desire to reform Illinois government, revitalize the state’s economy and minimize the need for tax increases and excessive regulations,” the group said in a statement. “However, concerns exist over the ability to move the state forward in a bipartisan fashion and, given the fiscal condition of the state, the feasibility of any tax roll-back.”

Other endorsements have been more clear-cut.

Terry Cosgrove is the CEO of Personal PAC, which backs candidates who support abortion rights. Personal PAC endorsed Pritzker over Rauner, even though the governor riled his anti-abortion base by signing a bill into law allowing public funds to be used for abortions.

Cosgrove said that while Rauner signed the bill, he did so only after wavering, resulting in the group’s endorsement of Pritzker, who also has signed a pledge promising not to repeal the legislation.

Cosgrove said endorsements matter to voters. And IRMA’s decision not to endorse Rauner will hurt the Republican on Nov. 6.

“It does a huge amount of damage,” Cosgrove said, referring to the pro-business Republican not receiving the IRMA endorsement. “When groups like Personal PAC endorse, (undecided voters) say, ‘We know that they pick the candidates that will protect choice and that would mean something.’”

Labor endorsements can be critical for Democrats, especially in crowded primaries where getting the nod from a large union could sway the election.

In addition to the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, the National Federation of Independent Business endorsed Rauner. Illinois director Mark Grant said the group’s members voted to endorse and overwhelmingly in support of Rauner.

He said the organization preferred Rauner because of the prospect of tax rate uncertainty under Pritzker. Pritzker has proposed changing the state constitution to allow for a progressive income tax that would have people who make more money pay higher rates. However, Pritzker hasn’t said what the rates might be or what income levels might see higher tax rates.

“They’re concerned,” he said. “The state still hasn’t proven that the state can manage its money and affairs in an effective and efficient way.”

Both candidates have earned high-profile newspaper endorsements.

The Chicago Tribune endorsed Rauner. The newspaper’s editorial board said that the Republican incumbent is the lone foil to Democrats in the General Assembly.

“He often stalemates them,” the board wrote. “Armed only with a veto pen and a bully pulpit, he blocks their exclusive dominion over lawmaking.”

Crain’s Chicago Business, a commerce-minded publication, reversed it’s 2014 endorsement and now endorses Pritzker, saying the state’s wellbeing “became collateral damage in what increasingly looked like an ideological war of attrition,” between Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s two-year budget war.

The Chicago Sun-Times, which is partly-owned by labor organizations that have not seen eye-to-eye with Rauner, is expected to interview the candidates today.

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