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Ill. election already descends to bare knuckles, class warfare

In Illinois, the primary votes had not even been counted before the general election descended to bare knuckles and class warfare.

While the Republican gubernatorial nominee, multi-millionaire Bruce Rauner, was still busy eking out a closer than anticipated win Tuesday, incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn already had launched attack ads projecting Rauner would cut the minimum wage in office.

“A billionaire calling for cutting the minimum wage, that’s class warfare and we’re not going to let him get away with it,” Quinn said.

Rauner doesn’t deny he made a fortune managing private equity funds, but will quickly parry questions about his wealth, turning to a tale of hard scrabble beginnings. He’d prefer, however, to discuss the unpopularity and vulnerabilities of the incumbent: the second highest unemployment in the nation (Rauner says it is the highest) a state drowning in debt, a public employee pension fund that can’t meet its obligation despite a major legislative effort to fix it and taxes that make neighboring Wisconsin and Indiana attractive to business.

“He’s chased employers out. He’s driven up employment. He’s risen our taxes more than sixty percent,” Rauner said of Quinn.

Rauner dodged a question about whether he is ready to combat the grip of state employee unions in Springfield. “My grandfather was in a union. I am not anti-union,” he said. “I want to represent all people in Illinois.”

Quinn, however, make no bones about whether he supports the best interest of organized labor. “I sure do,” he told Fox News Wednesday. Having lost major battles in Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan, Illinois becomes a must win for state employee unions. “It’s going to be a knockdown drag out, there’s no question,” said Ronald Powell, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers local 881.

Rauner portrays himself as a newcomer with a throw-the-bums-out populist approach. While he is new to campaigning, he is not new to the Chicago political machine. His investment management meant he was frequently dealing with public pension money and its managers.

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spent a lucrative two and a half years in the private sector, one of his deals was an acquisition of a company for Rauner to the tune of $479 million.

Emanuel, a lifelong Democrat and substantial clout broker, publicly backs Quinn. However, politicians and businessmen understand somewhere behind the party line there is gratitude and support for the commission on that whopper of an acquisition.

“I doubt it will happen above ground,” says conservative analyst Chris Robling. “It is very likely on the subterranean level.”

Republicans see this race as one they can win. Democrats see it as one they must win.

The Chicago Tribune estimates tens of millions of dollars are pouring into the campaigns. The tone is already set for plenty of scorched earth and no one is positioned to benefit more than the sales departments in Illinois broadcast outlets.

Michael Tobin joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Chicago-based correspondent.