Illinois Republican Bruce Rauner’s campaign has enlisted former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka to help defeat incumbent Democratic governor Pat Quinn. Ditka showed support for Rauner in an ad released yesterday, which can be found on DitkaTough.com. In the ad, he tells Rauner, “You know what I like about you Bruce? You’re tough. You attack the special interests. Bam. Hit them right in the mouth.”
Ditka, coach of the last Bears team to win an NFL championship in 1985, is a popular figure in Illinois who may help Rauner in his quest to obtain the support of blue collar voters across the state, aka the “Grabowskis.” In 2004, when Ditka was contemplating a run for U.S. Senate as a Republican, the Democratic opponent Barack Obama reportedly said, “I think if he [Ditka] gets in, he immediately becomes a favorite.” And a hypothetical poll that pitted Ditka versus Obama had the coach trailing by seven points, closer than any other Republican candidate the poll tested.
Ditka has since called the decision to forego running against Obama his biggest mistake, but showed no doubt in his decision to support Rauner in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. The Sun-Times noted that Ditka is not registered to vote in Illinois—he is registered in Florida instead—and appears to have questioned Ditka’s qualifications for choosing a candidate.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m qualified or not. What’s ‘qualification’?” Ditka told the Sun-Times in part. “You qualified to interview me? I think so. It’s not too complicated. It’s only common sense.” Ditka also said that he supported Rauner because, “I think he’s a better person for the state of Illinois and people of Illinois than Quinn. Period.” The Quinn campaign was quick to push back against Ditka’s support for Rauner, and a Quinn spokeswoman told the Sun-Times, “if Mr. Rauner is such a Bears fan, why’s he a part owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers?”
But the only thing Rauner appears to want to claim ownership of is his “ugly van.” In a recent ad that hits Quinn for flying from Chicago to Springfield at taxpayers’ expense, Rauner says he plans to drive to work as governor in the van that his kids call a “rolling trash can.” Rauner’s continued attempt to reach middle class voters, especially in hotly-contested suburban Cook County, may determine his fate in November.