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Election 2014: Seldom a choice so clear

October 27, 2014

Across the country, races for the Senate and for governor are going down to the wire. Republicans are expected to do well because many of the races are in states that President Barack Obama lost in 2012; Democratic turnout is predicted to fall off, and the president’s poll numbers are in the pits, with voters sensibly unhappy at the state of the economy and the direction of the country.

The Illinois race for governor illustrates that pattern. The incumbent governor, Democrat Pat Quinn, suffers from the state’s lousy economy and continued fiscal struggles. He’s in a dead heat with Republican challenger, billionaire businessman Bruce Rauner. Rauner, who made nearly $61 million in 2013 alone, has ensured that this is the most expensive race in Illinois history, with the airwaves blanketed with largely negative ads from both candidates.

In this blue state, Rauner has tried to present himself as a good manager who could straighten the state out, while distancing himself from right-wing social issues. He’s sensibly reached out to African-American voters, backing an estimated $1 million of credit union loans for small black businesses.

But despite all, Rauner and other Republicans are having a hard time closing the deal, and for good reason. They seem to have learned nothing from the failure of conservative policies that blew up the economy. At a time of extreme inequality, they promise more tax cuts for the wealthy, and more spending cuts on our schools and on the vulnerable. Rauner favors using public money to fund private school vouchers while refusing to promise to increase spending in our strapped schools. He’s against doing anything to curb big money politics. He’s in denial about climate change, while supporting subsidies for big oil. He’s opposed to health care reform, and to the expansion of Medicaid to offer health care to low-wage workers.

He pretends he’s a moderate voice, but he’s simply a wingman in the right-wing Republican team. The conservative National Review hails his race, suggesting that if he wins, it would provide “a laboratory experiment about whether conservative ideas can work in a state.” The last state to buy this snake oil was Kansas. Voters gave conservatives complete control of the legislature. They slashed taxes and spending, promising that this would generate jobs and lift incomes. But the jobs didn’t show up, the incomes didn’t rise and the schools and other vital public services got savaged. Now, even Republicans are rejecting the ruins.

Republicans in Senate and gubernatorial races have sought to make this election about Barack Obama, hoping to profit from the president’s flagging popularity. Republican obstruction has consistently impeded the recovery, but voters tend to hold the party that holds the White House responsible.

But even in red states, Republicans are mired in dead heats with their rivals. Voters are sensible enough to understand that, at the end of the day, there are two teams on the field. Republicans promise tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation for Wall Street, repeal of health care reform, more spending on the military and cuts in everything from education to public health. They vote in lock step against raising the minimum wage, pay equity for women, paid family leave, rebuilding our decrepit infrastructure. A hilarious country and western song lampoons Rauner, the “plutocrat” whose money summers in the Cayman Islands, for this folly.

Democrats, the other team, haven’t inspired much enthusiasm. But at the end of the day, they promise to invest in education and universal pre-kindergarten. They want to raise the minimum wage, enforce equal pay for equal work, strengthen health care reform, and rebuild the country. They think the rich and corporations should pay their fair share of taxes, not continue to pocket more tax breaks at a time of extreme inequality.

These contrasts are undeniable. The most expensive campaigns in our history will flood the airwaves with ads trying to discredit opponents and blur these distinctions. But voters should not be fooled. The choice is clear, in Illinois and elsewhere. Cast your vote with that in mind.

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