CHICAGO | Republican venture capitalist Bruce Rauner announced his gubernatorial bid for the 2014 election Wednesday, saying he's the anti-politician the struggling state of Illinois needs to "shake up Springfield."
He's the second Republican to announce a challenge to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in the days since the spring legislative session ended without action on the state's enormous employee pension crisis and other top issues.
It's the first bid for public office for Rauner, a wealthy businessman from Winnetka. Rauner said his "outsider" status will allow him to take on government union bosses he says are calling the shots in the state Capitol and contributing to Illinois' disastrous financial situation.
In addition to the nearly $100 billion pension crisis, Illinois has the highest unemployment rate in the Midwest and the lowest credit rating of any state in the nation.
"I can take this on," Rauner said.
It's shaping up to be a crowded field. State Treasurer Dan Rutherford announced Sunday he's also seeking the Republican nomination, and GOP state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady — who narrowly lost to Quinn in 2010 — also have expressed interest.
Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, has said he'll run for re-election. Former White House chief of staff Bill Daley and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan are considering challenging him in the primary.
Rauner's position on social issues could be a problem in the primary election, which tends to draw more conservative voters. He supports abortion rights, and said Wednesday that he believes voters should decide whether Illinois should allow same-sex marriage. That issue has caused a rift among the Illinois Republicans Party, whose more socially conservative members recently pushed for the ouster of former party Chairman Pat Brady, in part because he took a public position in support of gay marriage.
Polls have shown a rise in public support for gay marriage, both in Illinois and nationally.
Rauner, 57, said he believes Republicans will be "unified and strong" this time around, and will rally around issues such as taxes and making the state more welcoming to business.
He already has shown he can compete in one key area: fundraising. Rauner brought in $1.3 million in the first month after forming his exploratory committee in March and launching a 60-day statewide "listening tour." That money includes a $249,000 personal contribution.
Union officials accused Rauner of "pitting neighbor against neighbor," saying his personal fortune may buy TV ads but won't buy him any goodwill.
"If billionaire Bruce Rauner thinks bullying attacks on middle-class working people, their families and seniors is good politics, he's even further out of touch with Illinois values than his extreme policies suggest," said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, the state's largest public-employee union.
In a video posted on his campaign website, Rauner describes himself as a self-made businessman whose grandfather was a Swedish-speaking Illinois dairyman. He says he could ride a horse at age 6 and milk a cow at age 8, and that his first job was flipping burgers.
He was an early partner in the Chicago investment firm Golder, Thoma, Cressey, which was later named GTCR. According to its website, the private-equity firm has invested more than $10 billion in more than 200 companies since its inception.
Rauner's first official campaign appearance is scheduled for Friday at Caterpillar Inc. in Peoria, where he said he plans to discuss the challenges Illinois businesses are facing, such as an uncompetitive tax code and regulatory environment.
He also said he will push for term limits for all elected offices, charter schools and school vouchers, and a solution to the state's pension crisis that includes "much bigger changes" than what the Legislature considered during its most recent session.