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Wealthy execs eye political races


September 16. 2013 11:56PM
THOMAS BEAUMONT Associated Press

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CHICAGO — He has never been elected to anything, not even “student council in high school,” as he boasts. He has little patience for schmoozing. In dealing with people, he admits to being “pretty blunt” - more suited to running a large private equity firm, which Bruce Rauner did successfully for 30 years, than seeking votes for governor, which he intends to do in Illinois next year.


But the traits that might once have made Rauner a bust in politics are beginning to look like possible assets for a Republican in Illinois and for underdogs elsewhere across the increasingly polarized American political landscape. With three quarters of the states now dominated by one party or the other — the highest ratio in recent history — candidates from the other side often seem to have little chance on election day. In this environment, a handful of outsiders are gambling that the time is ripe for challengers who can break out of normal party mold.


Instead of political skills or experience, they have chutzpah — and a lot of money.


“I come from business. I don’t come from the political world, so I call it as I see it. And I think we need a lot more of that down in Springfield,” Rauner, a Republican, declared to an audience of businessmen in overwhelmingly Democratic Illinois. “I can’t be bribed. I can’t be intimidated.”


Rauner, a tall, big-voiced executive who’s worth close to $1 billion, is the star of a class of wealthy Republicans who take inspiration from Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who left the business world in 2010 to beat established Democrats in Democratic strongholds. While technically Republicans, they ran as problem-solving CEOs.


Tom Foley, a former venture capitalist, is expected to run as a Republican for governor of Connecticut. After losing by less than a percentage point in 2010, he hopes to take advantage of Democrat Dan Malloy’s low approval ratings this time. Scott Honour, who made his fortune in private equity and investment banking, plans to challenge Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in solidly Democratic Minnesota. And Charlie Baker, former chief executive of a hospital group, is running for governor in Massachusetts.


Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is shopping for its own business stars or mold-busters to run in Midwestern states where Republicans have taken firm control.


The model is Mark Warner, a cell-phone tycoon who took the governorship away from the GOP in Virginia in 2001. In Wisconsin, they have their eye on Mary Burke, a former executive at the company her father founded, Trek Bicycles, to challenge Republican Gov. Scott Walker.


In addition to the success stories that prominent entrepreneurs tell, they can ante up resources that other first-timers can’t.


“The ability to do that is certainly something we look for,” said Danny Kanner, spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association.


It’s still tough to buck the dominant party trend. In Democratic-leaning California, Republican Meg Whitman, who built a fortune as CEO of eBay, resoundingly lost the 2010 governor’s race despite spending $140 million of her own money.




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