2014 was always destined to be a big year for Illinois politics, what with the big money spent on the gubernatorial race and waiting to hear what was going on with the new pension reform law. But it turned out to be way more exciting than anyone expected.
Republican gubernatorial primary
What we expected: A tight, four-way race with Treasurer Dan Rutherford, state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady, Treasurer Dan Rutherford and political newcomer Bruce Rauner attempting to win over the party's most conservative faction without alienating the suburban independents and Democratic crossover vote they'd ultimately need to win in November. As 2014 dawned, Rutherford led in polling and he and Rauner were outpacing Dillard and Brady in fundraising.
What we got: On Jan. 31, Rutherford held a press conference in Chicago in which he accused Rauner of trying to sabotage his campaign after a treasurer's office employee filed a harassment lawsuit against Rutherford. It was the start of a bizarre turn of events that included an investigation instigated by Rutherford that he said would exonerate him. But when Rutherford delayed releasing the report, the whole ordeal overtook his campaign. By the March 18 primary, the GOP race had become a Dillard-vs.-Rauner contest with Rauner enjoying a large lead in pre-election polling.
Unexpected twist: Rauner's strong opposition to public employee unions mobilized union leadership and members to support the moderate suburbanite Dillard. Rauner's double-digit lead in polls shrank to a 1.9-point margin of victory over Dillard, who got considerable help from Democrats who voted in the Republican primary. Rutherford finished a distant fourth with 4.9 percent.
What we expected: Republican State Rep. Tom Cross entered the race for state treasurer with more than a decade of statewide name recognition thanks to his long service as House Republican Leader, a position that placed him opposite House Speaker Michael Madigan. Cross generally was viewed as the favorite against state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, and polling consistently showed him in the lead. Still, this race was expected to be competitive.
What we got: Frerichs pulled out a close victory, winning by .3 percentage points -- a total of 9,225 votes.
Unexpected twist: New rules that allowed same-day voter registration and the popularity of early voting meant that thousands of ballots went uncounted until after the polls closed on Election Day. Cross had a lead of more than 21,000 votes in regular voting, but ballots counted after Election Day quickly turned the race into a contest that separated the candidates by only a few hundred votes out of more than 3.5 million cast. It took two weeks for the counting to be complete, and Cross conceded on Nov. 18.
Check out Reboot Illinois for more analysis about what we expected and we got in Illinois politics in 2014, including the general election and the comptroller's race.
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