CHICAGO — A Republican state senator launched a third party bid for governor Thursday in what could be a death knell for Illinois GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner’s reelection bid.
State Sen. Sam McCann is running as what he called an “independent conservative,” telling POLITICO Thursday that he felt “called to serve” to counter the prospect of having only two “billionaires from Chicago” on the November ballot.
McCann denied that his run is an effort to settle a score with Rauner and ensure the embattled first-term governor is defeated in November.
“I’m in this to win it. I’ve never run a race not to win it. I don’t run against people, I run to win,” McCann said Thursday.
McCann, who represents a central Illinois district, has battled for years with the governor over union issues. McCann has enjoyed the support of organized labor, which helped him stave off an attempt by the governor’s political arm to unseat him in 2016. McCann backed Rauner’s opponent in the March primary where the governor barely eked out a victory, joining conservatives who said Rauner turned his back on them when he signed into law a bill expanding public funding of abortion in Illinois.
McCann said his bid is as much about economic issues, pointing to rising debt and pension liabilities under the Republican governor.
“As bad as [former Democratic Gov. Pat] Quinn was, Rauner’s worse,” McCann told POLITICO. “The state is worse off. The state of our bills, the pension liability. Not to mention the enmity that exists. A true leader brings people together to advance common causes.”
McCann is undoubtedly emboldened by a primary election in which little-known conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives almost defeated Rauner, who won by fewer than three percentage points. Having a conservative on the ballot in the general election threatens to take precious Republican votes away from Rauner, whose poll numbers are under water in what’s expected to be a Democratic wave year. McCann’s candidacy is not automatic; he still must collect 25,000 valid signatures to win a spot on the ballot. McCann said he expects to collect 50,000 to 60,000.
Rauner’s campaign came out swinging against McCann in the wake of the announcement.
“Sam McCann is the worst kind of political opportunist who is only running for governor to line his own pockets. McCann’s unethical record speaks for itself.” Rauner campaign spokesman Will Allison said. “Public service should not be for personal gain and Sam McCann’s new ‘campaign’ is just a thinly veiled attempt to profit off of politics.”
Democratic nominee J.B. Pritzker suggested that McCann’s presence in the race validated his criticism of the governor.
“I welcome another voice to the race for governor at this critical time for our state,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Bruce Rauner is a failed governor who has done untold damage to communities throughout Illinois, and people from across the political spectrum are ready for change.”