Illinois governor narrowly survives tight primary

Illinois governor narrowly survives tight primary
© Getty Images

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has lived to fight another day after winning a surprisingly close GOP primary ahead of what is almost certain to be a difficult reelection bid in November.

Rauner held off conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R) by a slim margin on Tuesday, despite outspending her on television advertising by a more than 5-to-1 margin.

"This primary election was hard fought. I am honored and humbled by this victory because you have given me the chance to win the battle against the corruption that plagues Illinois. I want to congratulate my opponent Jeanne Ives on her campaign," Rauner said in a statement shortly before the race was called by The Associated Press.

The results underscore the difficulty Rauner faces in November, when his ordinarily blue state casts ballots in an environment that appears to generally favor Democrats. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Rauner is popular neither with conservatives, who object to his signing a measure to allow the state to pay for abortion services, nor with Democrats, who never liked him in the first place. Public and private polls showed Rauner's approval rating rivaling President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump calls Sri Lankan prime minister following church bombings Ex-Trump lawyer: Mueller knew Trump had to call investigation a 'witch hunt' for 'political reasons' The biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone MORE's in deep-blue Illinois.

Despite his unpopularity, Rauner's personal wealth means he cannot be counted out just yet. Rauner had already put more than $50 million into his reelection bid, and the retired venture capitalist has plenty more at his disposal.

Ives spent a fraction of what Rauner did on television, about $2.9 million compared with $16.5 million for Rauner. But Democrats tried a last-minute gambit to push Ives over the line, spending almost $400,000 on late advertising dubbing her "too conservative" for Illinois — which amounted to an endorsement in a Republican primary.

Rauner almost certainly faces an uphill fight in November against the winner of the Democratic primary, who is likely to begin the marathon toward the general election as a strong favorite. 

Pre-primary polls showed billionaire J.B. Pritzker (D) leading businessman Chris Kennedy (D) and state Sen. Daniel Biss (D) by a slim margin. Pritzker had vastly outspent both his main rivals, though he failed to separate himself from either of them in the days ahead of the primary.

Updated: 11:58 p.m.