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Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014 12:01 am

And the race continues

 Just a quick note to Bruce Rauner: The next time you try to claim that Gov. Pat Quinn is “personally” under federal investigation (an allegation that, as far as anyone can tell, is not true), it’s probably best not to say it while standing next to a different governor who actually is “personally” under federal investigation.

Rauner held a relatively brief press conference last week to talk about Chicago’s violence problem with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at his side. Rauner attempted to claim that Quinn was somehow responsible for the murder of a 9-year-old boy by a convict on probation – even though it appears right now that all state laws and procedures were followed. And not mentioned, of course, is that Newark, New Jersey, has a murder rate almost twice that of Chicago, which sort of undercut Christie’s contention that Gov. Quinn had “failed” to protect Illinois’ public safety.

Rauner was then asked about the growing scandal of an alleged nursing home “bust-out” scheme, which includes the bizarrely sordid story of how the troubled company was sold off to a pathetic old man who thought he was buying computer parts and instead wound up with an empty shell corporation that ended up being responsible for about a billion dollars in wrongful death judgments.

The candidate denied any personal knowledge of the company’s problems (he never seems to know about his companies’ many, many problems), denied “lying” to the Chicago Tribune when he said he had only served on the nursing home company’s board of directors for a year (the Tribune eventually discovered his tenure was four times longer than that) and claimed that Quinn was “trying to create a distraction” by even bringing up the subject. Actually, Quinn was running TV ads last week on a different Rauner company in Georgia that was hit with federal Medicaid fraud charges. Perhaps Rauner is confusing his companies. The nursing home story is an issue now because a federal bankruptcy trial, which started last week, is attempting to sort out who is responsible for paying what to the surviving families of dead nursing home residents.

The gubernatorial contender then attempted to turn the tables on Quinn by claiming the governor is personally under federal investigation for that 2010 anti-violence initiative. But Rauner’s campaign has repeatedly pointed to the fact that their candidate was never even deposed in the nursing home bankruptcy proceeding as “proof” that he has no responsibility. Using Rauner’s very own standard, since Quinn’s emails haven’t been directly subpoenaed by the feds, he can also legitimately claim to be innocent.

And that’s when a reporter pointed out that Gov. Christie (whom Rauner referred to last week as “one of the greatest public servants in America”) is personally under federal investigation for that bridge closing scandal thing. It’s hardly the next Watergate, and appears freakishly overblown to my eyes, but a federal probe is a federal probe, I suppose, so it was a fair point. Rauner refused to respond and Christie gave the reporter the evil eye.

Not all, but most Chicago reporters don’t know much about state governance, and they know even less about state budgeting. So, Rauner has been able to avoid tough questions about things like his “business reforms” that he refuses to detail, or his proposed massive spending hikes coupled with even bigger tax cuts that will produce budget holes in the billions, etc. That’s where his highly polished, tried-and-true talking points do him the most good – with reporters who don’t understand the details and, for the most part, don’t care anyway.

But that phase of the campaign is now behind us. What’s left is Chicago reporters pushing Rauner to comment on the issues of the day as defined by them. And when he has no poll-tested talking points to rely on, he’s proving to be a sorely inadequate candidate.

Quinn’s campaign often sends out its lieutenant governor candidate Paul Vallas when it needs an attack dog. Rauner’s running mate Evelyn Sanguinetti, however, is most definitely not capable of handling herself with Chicago’s notoriously aggressive reporters. She’s just not good at it and they’d eat her for lunch. As lacking as Rauner is, Sanguinetti is just not an option. So the top guy is left to do all the dirty work.

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

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