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Wealth, minimum wage pop up in governor race

Published: Friday, Sept. 5, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST

CHICAGO (AP) – Illinois’s gubernatorial race turned to the question of whether a candidate’s personal wealth should be a qualifying factor in holding public office, with the Democratic lieutenant governor candidate saying Thursday that Republican Bruce Rauner is too rich to be governor.

Paul Vallas, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s running mate, was asked if he believed Republican venture capitalist Bruce Rauner was “just too rich to be governor.” After telling reporters that Rauner didn’t understand working class Illinoisans because of his philosophy in business, Vallas answered “yes.”

“He definitely cannot relate to everyday voters, and he cannot relate to working families,” Vallas said.

Quinn’s campaign has tried to paint Rauner as an out-of-touch millionaire, pointing to the $53 million he earned in 2012 and most recently pointing out his membership to a wine club with up to $140,000 in initiation fees. However, the campaign has stopped short of saying directly that it is because Rauner is too wealthy.

Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf scoffed at Vallas’ contention.

“We didn’t know a person’s income level was a qualification for office,” he said in a statement.

Political experts said Vallas’ comment could resonate with some voters, but it could also give Rauner’s campaign ammunition to accuse Quinn of creating class warfare.

“It really digs you into a hole that makes an easy target for TV ads and radio spots,” said Kent Redfield professor emeritus at the University of Illinois Springfield. “It’s clearly not helpful in terms of the focus that the Quinn campaign is trying to present.”

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson later clarified that Vallas meant that Rauner’s wealth informs his policies which “benefit the very wealthy.” The campaign has already gone after companies invested in by Rauner’s former firm, GTCR, with allegations of outsourcing American jobs overseas, among other things. Quinn, who has campaigned separately from Vallas, stopped at a Garth Brooks news conference Thursday for the country music star’s new world tour. He didn’t take questions.

Meanwhile, Rauner has often touted his success as a businessman on the campaign trail.

Rauner’s campaign has called Quinn a career politician whose tenure has seen high unemployment rates, and whose policies have hurt the state’s business climate.

The attention on wealth came Thursday as Rauner’s stance on the minimum wage again came under scrutiny.

Raising the minimum wage has been a campaign cornerstone for Quinn. He has vowed to try and spend on a minimum wage budget this week – calculated at $79 without housing and transportation – to bring attention to the issue. The Chicago Democrat wants the state’s $8.25 rate to be raised to at least $10 an hour.

Rauner’s evolving stance created waves during the four-way Republican primary. Last September he said he was “adamantly, adamantly” opposed to an increase. Months later at a December forum Rauner said he would support lowering Illinois’ to the federal $7.25 rate. He later called that a mistake and has since said he would back an increase under certain circumstances, such as accompanied by business reforms.

Schrimpf said Thursday Rauner has already stated that his previous statements on the issue were a mistake and he supports an increase.

Illinois voters will also see a Nov. 4 non-binding ballot question on whether to raise the minimum wage.

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Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen .

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Associated Press writer Caryn Rousseau contributed to this report.

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