Obama Campaigns for His Home State's Governor

by | October 20, 2014

By Monique Garcia

President Barack Obama on Sunday night helped launch an all-out effort by Democrats to get voters to the polls for Gov. Pat Quinn, telling thousands gathered at a South Side rally to cast their ballots when early voting starts Monday.

"Pat Quinn first took office nine days after I did. He took on the tough challenges. He made the tough calls," Obama said during his remarks at Chicago State University's Emil and Patricia A. Jones Convocation Center, named after the former Illinois Senate president and his late wife.

Obama sought to tap into his hometown popularity to energize the Democratic base in a non-presidential election year that typically sees lower voter turnout. It marked the second time Obama has been home on behalf of Quinn, with the rally following a high-dollar fundraiser in late September. Quinn has remained competitive on the TV airwaves against Republican challenger Bruce Rauner of Winnetka, who has put more than $18.6 million of his fortune into the contest.

"We're in the fight of our lives for the soul of our democracy," Quinn told a crowd estimated at 6,200. "We are the government of the many, and we are taking on those who think government is of the money. They may have more money, but we have President Obama."

While some Democrats nationally are shying away from the unpopular Obama, Quinn hopes to draft off of Obama's continued home-state popularity. The president originally had plotted an ambitious schedule of events with Democratic governors and governor candidates to end last week. But with growing public fears over ebola, Obama scrapped all the trips but the one to Illinois.

On Monday, the president plans to raise money in Chicago for the Democratic National Committee before returning to the White House for a week of meetings and a DNC fundraiser in the nation's capital.

"I care about what happens here," said Obama, who joked that Quinn is "not spending money on his wardrobe" because he's worried about the big issues. "The first thing I am going to do tomorrow is cast my vote (for Quinn)."

The Jackie Robinson West Little League team led the Pledge of Allegiance. The crowd did the wave. Speakers including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle stepped up to a podium featuring the sign "Fired up, ready to vote!," a callback to the president's campaign slogan.

Frankey Moss, a 60-year-old Pace bus mechanic from Berwyn, said he helped register voters with his union and planned to vote early. The Obama appearance may encourage voters to pay attention when they otherwise wouldn't, he said.

"I think people tune in a little more because of his stature," Moss said.

The latest presidential visit is part of extensive efforts Democrats are making to prevent the potential embarrassment of having the governor's mansion in Obama's home state fall to Republican control on Nov. 4.

In addition to Obama, former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to stump for Quinn on Tuesday at an event focusing on the economy at Wheatland Tube near Western Boulevard and 45th Street. On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to appear at an early voting rally with Quinn running mate Paul Vallas, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider at the Sullivan Community Center in Vernon Hills. Durbin faces Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis and Schneider has a rematch against former Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Dold.

Earlier this month, Quinn received fundraising help from First Lady Michelle Obama, who also hosted a rally at the University of Illinois-Chicago, and former Secretary of State and potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who sprung for Quinn's hot chocolate during a stop at a Loop Starbucks.

Renee Snow, 52, of south suburban Posen has been making the rally rounds, hitting the first lady's event and the presidential appearance Sunday night. Snow said she operates a day care that receives state funding and supports Quinn because he's committed to increasing spending on early childhood education as part of his plan to keep the higher income tax rate he signed into law.

Quinn, who has tried to make Rauner's wealth a central issue of the campaign, wants to keep the state income tax rate at 5 percent instead of letting it fall back to 3.75 percent as scheduled in January. "As long as I'm governor, we're not going to give tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of cutting our schools," Quinn told the audience.

Obama, however, said Quinn was running to "provide the largest tax break in history of working families in Illinois." A Quinn aide said the president was referring to Quinn's call last spring for a property tax cut. That plan went nowhere in the General Assembly.

Obama recalled his days as an organizer, saying folks he met along the way taught him that "you've got so much power and you're giving too much away."

"You just assume that there's not much you can do with Springfield and Washington," Obama said. "And each and every day you're fed a message that what you think doesn't really matter, that your experience doesn't matter, that nothing you can do is going to make any difference, and both parties are in the tank... And you start being skeptical of every politician. And you start believing that it's not worth voting. Well I'm here to tell you that that kind of cynicism is a choice you've made."

For his part, Rauner has looked to the political celebrity of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has made several appearances in Illinois on Rauner's behalf. Christie was in Chicago on Friday for a closed-door fundraiser and plans a campaign stop in Rockford on Tuesday. Rauner spent Sunday campaigning at South Side churches out of the public eye after a Downstate trip on Saturday.

Rauner's campaign touted a series of newspaper editorial board endorsements, including one by the Chicago Sun-Times, which had gotten out of the endorsements game for nearly three years. Rauner once held a financial interest in Wrapports LLC, the paper's parent company, until deciding to run for governor.

Early voting starts Monday, this time with a variety of one-time rule changes Quinn signed into law that advocates say are meant to boost voter participation but critics argue were put in place to increase Democratic turnout in the hotly-contested governor's race. For the first time, people voting early will be able to do so without showing a photo ID such as a driver's license.

The two-week early voting period, which traditionally ends the Saturday before the Tuesday election, will this year continue through Sunday, Nov. 2 at some voting locations.

In the city, five early voting locations will be open later during the second week, until 7 p.m. from Oct. 27-31. The later hours will be in effect at 42 suburban locations, plus the Cook County clerk's Loop location. Early voting locations across the city and suburbs will be open until 5 p.m. on other dates in the run-up to the election.

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