CHICAGO - The race for Illinois governor is shaping up as a battle of vastly different visions on how to revive a lagging economy in one of the Midwest's last Democratic strongholds, and the candidates wasted no time Wednesday shoring up those distinctions.
While incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has increased taxes and pushed for raising the minimum wage, the Republican nominee - multimillionaire venture capitalist Bruce Rauner - wants to curtail government unions and run President Barack Obama's home state like a business.
Rauner's win in Tuesday's Republican primary against three other candidates sets up a November matchup with Quinn that's expected to be one of the hardest fought and most expensive in the nation. As Republicans attempt to reclaim the state's top office for the first time in more than a decade, labor unions - traditionally aligned with Democrats - are trying to avoid the kinds of blows they've felt under GOP governors elsewhere.
Quinn, who is seeking a second term, began airing his first campaign ad focused on Rauner's changing stance on minimum wage during Tuesday's primary. Quinn wants to raise Illinois' $8.25 wage to at least $10. Rauner said he'd like to lower then later said he'd raise it under the right circumstances.
"This is a billionaire with nine homes, nine mansions, calling for a reduction in the minimum wage," he told reporters Wednesday. "He has a lot of explaining to do."
But Rauner disagreed.
"America is not about class warfare and it's about opportunity. And that's why I'm running," he told Chicago's WLS-TV Wednesday. "Since when in America is it bad to be hard working and successful? It's a great thing. I'm proud of my track record. And I didn't inherit a nickel. I made it through a lot of hard work."
Rauner - who said the fall election is going to be "very, very tough" - has labeled as role models Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, both of whom pushed anti-union policies. Those comments prompted organized labor to spend millions trying to derail a Rauner nomination.
The Winnetka venture capitalist, who sunk more than $6 million of his own money into his campaign to defeat three veteran lawmakers during his first bid for public office, targeted the "career politicians" and government "union bosses" he says have caused Illinois' woeful financial situation.
Rauner has called Quinn a failure and said he wants to "bring back Illinois" by giving working families a chance to increase their income, get a good education and raise their families in prosperity. He has said he'd do that by lowering taxes, cutting spending and making Illinois friendlier to business.
"It's a choice between failure of the past and a new day, a bright future," Rauner said in his Tuesday night victory speech at a downtown hotel.
At a union hall a few blocks away, Quinn renewed his call for a higher minimum wage, calling working people "the real everyday heroes," after easily winning his party's nomination against a lesser-known challenger.