Rauner’s TV ad is all bark, no bite

 Gov. Bruce Rauner’s much-anticipated TV ad isn’t as over-the-top negative as we might have thought it would be.

“Exactly,” was the response from a Rauner official I spoke with after watching the ad and making that above observation about its somewhat muted tone.

“There’s plenty of time for that if it’s necessary,” the official added.

In case you haven’t seen it, the governor’s ad begins with shots of downtown Chicago, then moves to a photo of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

“Illinois is at a crossroads,” says the female announcer. “Mike Madigan and the politicians he controls refuse to change.

“They’re saying ‘No’ to spending discipline, ‘No’ to job-creating economic reforms, ‘No’ to term limits.

“All they want is higher taxes. Again.”

At the nineteen-second mark, Gov. Rauner appears in the ad. “Change in Springfield isn’t easy,” Rauner says in voiceover as he’s seen on the screen talking with a couple of male workers. “But you didn’t send me here to do what’s easy,” he says as he’s seen talking to a woman standing at a counter near some flowers.

“With your help,” Rauner says to the camera as the phrase “Join Bruce Rauner” appears next to his head, “I’m gonna keep fightin’ to grow our economy and fix our broken state government.”

The ad has played in most media markets in the state on both broadcast and cable stations, including the expensive St. Louis area, where Rauner is spending at least $100,000, according to a firm which tracks these things. Chicago, Rockford, Champaign/Springfield/Decatur, Peoria and the Quad Cities have all been targeted.

An aide to the House Speaker who saw the ad before I did said he didn’t think it would make much of a difference. After a buildup in expectations, he said, the ad failed to bite much at all, and he even laughed it off.

But a top Senate Democratic operative expressed sincere relief that the spot wasn’t so harsh that it would’ve destroyed any possibility of reaching an agreement on the budget and the governor’s “Turnaround Agenda” issues, like workers’ compensation reform, a property tax freeze and tort reform.

They’re both probably right.

Rauner’s ad does not ask Illinoisans to do anything specific except support him. There are no phone numbers to call, no other actions to take. He could’ve flooded Madigan’s Statehouse switchboard if he’d chosen to do so, but he didn’t.

So, on the one hand, you gotta wonder what exactly the governor hopes to accomplish with this ad, except to “punish” Madigan a bit and demonstrate his willingness to spend a million bucks a week on whatever the heck he wants.

On the other hand, those who still think a deal can get done ought to be relieved that the governor showed a little restraint in his march to war and didn’t go at Madigan with both barrels blazing.

And, by being somewhat reasonable and coming in under expectations, the ad will likely avoid any immediate public backlash. By speechifying across the state for months instead of holing up in Springfield the governor has opened himself up to potential criticism that he ought to dump the rhetoric and get to work on solving actual problems. He’ll still have to deal with an angry and dismissive Madigan, however. That’s not going to be any easier now.

Former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar has been pleading for calm lately and asking that both sides avoid personal insults.

“The conversations they’re having aren’t the problem,” Edgar told WICS TV. “Sometimes it’s what they’re saying when they aren’t together that’s the problem. It seems to be Madigan compares [Rauner] to Blagojevich and [Rauner] makes reference to their character. All that will happen in the heat of battle, but I think everyone needs to know we’re at the point if we’re going to get things done we need to back off of that,” the former governor said.

Regarding the new ad, Edgar said he was worried that Rauner’s TV buy would do more harm than good. “I fear that they could cause the Democrats not to come to the table, but maybe to dig in more,” Edgar told Statehouse reporters.

Gov. Rauner has all but claimed that Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton are corrupt, Madigan has compared Rauner to the imprisoned Rod Blagojevich, Rauner’s staff has pointedly insulted the House Democrats for engaging in a “sexist smear” of a Rauner appointee, etc., etc., etc.  

So, it’s little wonder that Edgar is worried that this thing could easily go off the rails, if it hasn’t already.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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