Candidates for Illinois governor square off in first televised debate

CHICAGO — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrat J.B. Pritzker met for their first debate of the Illinois governor's race.

Rauner is trying to win a second term against Pritzker, a billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune who's never held public office. Polls have shown Pritzker with a healthy lead.

During the hour-long debate, the two came armed with grenades.

“It’s easy for you to sit on the sidelines when you haven’t done an honest day’s work in your lifetime,” Rauner said.

“You are failed governor. You’ve failed every year,” Prtizker responded.

The men also clashed on taxes. To shore up state finances, Pritzker is proposing a graduated income tax, but he is not saying what the rates will be.

Complicating matters for the governor was Sam McCann, a state senator, who’s running to offer angry conservatives an alternative.

Rauner suggested McCann is having an impact on the race, and halfway through the debate, Rauner lashed out at McCann.

“Mr. McCann has received way too much time in this,” he said.

House Speaker Michael Madigan is hovering over the race. Pritzker was asked whether it’s time for the long-serving speaker to go.

“I don’t think people should serve for decades,” Pritzker said.

“Everyone in state government should be term limited,” Rauner said.

Rauner famously declared he was not in charge of the state. He responded to that at Thursday’s debate.

“Everyone knows that our state is under the control of Mike Madigan,” he said. “This is about coming together to take on a corrupt political machine that is controlled to by Mike Madigan and funded by Pritzker.”

The Libertarian Grayson "Kash" Jackson did not seem to have beef with his rivals. Instead, he tried to stand out.

On Thursday morning, Rauner stopped by the Hilton Chicago Hotel where workers remain on strike. He crossed the picket line for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting.

“When your average citizen who is not part of some organized group stays home, the machine wins. The organized, disciplined unfortunately corrupt inside machine that’s dominated Chicago for years,” he said.

Pritzker did not have a public schedule. Party Executive Director Christian Mitchell met with reporters.

This new phase of the campaign starts with polls showing Pritzker leading Rauner by double digits. However, both men remain unpopular. Thirty-five percent of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Pritzker; 52.4 percent of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Rauner.

Both men are inundating the airways and Internet with commercials. The spending is astronomical. Pritzker has donated $126 million of his own fortune; Rauner $95 million.

The debate was the first of three scheduled TV showcases. The next debate is scheduled for Oct. 3. Thursday's debate was sponsored by NBC 5, Telemundo, the Union League Club of Chicago and Chicago Urban League.