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A dark-horse candidate in the Illinois gubernatorial race reveals an unexpected strategy to unseat Rauner

Downstate Democrat Bob Daiber says he can deliver the kind of voters that his wealthier and more recognizable opponents can’t.

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Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bob Daiber doesn’t have the wealth or name recognition of Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker, but he says he could help harvest potential Democratic voters downstate. - ASHLEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES
  • Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
  • Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bob Daiber doesn’t have the wealth or name recognition of Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker, but he says he could help harvest potential Democratic voters downstate.

As the days slowly tick down toward next year's epic gubernatorial showdown, a conventional strategy has emerged as to how Democrats can unseat Governor Rauner. Rally behind a Chicago-area personality—preferably one wealthy enough to match our billionaire governor buck for buck—who will coalesce all of the city's animus toward Rauner and Trump. (Lord knows there's a lot of that!) Then use the massive resistance to overwhelm Rauner's downstate support.

But there may be a second, less obvious tactic that involves putting Rauner on the defensive by nominating a downstate candidate to bring in the swing voters the Democrats never should've conceded to Rauner and Trump in the first place. And as a public service to everyone who can't stomach the idea of another four years of Rauner bankrupting our schools and starving our social services, I'd like to introduce you to the only Democratic candidate who could possibly pull it off.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Bob Daiber, who's pretty much everything that the better-known, better-financed Democratic gubernatorial candidates Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker are not.

The 60-year-old regional superintendent of schools in Madison County just east of the Saint Louis border, Daiber grew up in Marine, a village of about 960 people in Madison County. His mother was a retail worker in a local store. His father was a farmer. They were lifelong Democrats. Well, his father was, anyway. His mother's father was a Republican. So it was a pretty big deal when she went to the other side, politically speaking. He went to Triad High School in Marine. And then on to junior college and eventually Eastern Illinois University, where he graduated with a degree in education. In 1978, he went back to Triad to teach shop.

"I'm probably the only shop teacher who's ever run for governor," he says. "I've always been good with my hands. I can run any kind of machine you see on the face of the earth. My biggest influence was Anton Yakos—he was my shop teacher at Triad. I idolized him. He was a World War II veteran and a coal miner. He's one of those teachers who taught you a lot more than the subject matter."

In addition to teaching, Daiber still runs the family farm. "I love being out on the land," he says.

In 1992, he ran for state representative against Ron Stephens. Daiber lost the bitterly contested race by about 200 votes. He unsuccessfully ran two other times, in '94 and '98.

If Daiber couldn't get elected as state rep in his hometown district, what makes him think he can win statewide? Well, it's a Republican district, he says, and Stephens was an immensely popular incumbent.

In 2002, Daiber was elected—and then twice reelected—to the Madison County Board.

As he sees it, downstate Illinois is far more progressive on economic issues than people think. Take Madison County, for instance. Yes, Trump won roughly 55 percent of the vote over Clinton last November. But in 2014, while Rauner racked up 58 percent over former governor Pat Quinn, almost 59 percent of Madison County went for a nonbinding referendum to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour. And 60 percent voted for another referendum to raise taxes on millionaires to finance the state's public schools.

In other words, there are potential Democratic voters to be harvested downstate. Just like in the swing districts of rural Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that helped elect Trump.

"I'm the candidate who can carry the downstate vote," he says. "I can carry Trump voters. On the county board I represented a largely Republican district."

On social issues, he's a moderate. "My personal values are more pro-life, but I recognize pro-choice is the law of the land and I will respect that law," he says. "I'm fully supportive of reproductive rights. I support Planned Parenthood. And I recognize gay rights."

As for gun control, he's says, "I support concealed-carry gun laws. The Second Amendment is a big issue where I come from."

On economic issues, he's an unabashed pro-union progressive. "We have a revenue problem," he says. "I would support a progressive income tax. There's only one solution. The debt has to be bonded out. And we have to pay down that debt with the principal of new tax revenue. I want to become governor to stabilize Illinois. Education is my passion. No one needs to tell me how important education is to kids—I taught for 28 years. And no one needs to tell me about living in poverty—I was raised with solid New Deal Democratic values. This is who I am and who I've always been."

Ironically, Daiber would probably have an easier time beating Rauner than he will winning the Democratic nomination. He's up against two wealthy businessmen, Kennedy and Pritzker, who can self-finance their campaigns. The other two announced Democrats, alderman Ameya Pawar and Evanston state senator Dan Biss, have a wealthier base to tap for money.

But Daiber's biggest handicap is his anonymity. He's generally treated as a fringe candidate, and has earned scant mentions in coverage of the election. He's so unknown that Rauner's Republican operatives haven't even bothered to blast him in a press release—as they've done for Biss, Kennedy, Pawar, and Pritzker.

"I'm working hard to get my message out," Daiber says. "I don't want anyone to think I'm taking Chicago for granted. I'm in Chicago three or four times a week. Whether we like it or not, we're all in this together. We may not be a big happy family. But it's a family, nonetheless."   v

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