Republican State Senator Sam McCann announces 3rd party bid to be Illinois Governor

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Sam McCann
Photo: Screenshot from Sam McCann's YouTube channel

Republican Illinois State Senator Sam McCann yesterday announced his intention to run for Governor this November under the banner of a new party he is calling the “Conservative Party.”

As Republican incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner is frequently criticized by conservative elements within his party, McCann’s entrance into the race is being described as a genuine threat to Rauner’s re-election prospects.

Sam McCann called “worst kind of political opportunist” and “a crook” by his former party

A successful third party challenge may seem unlikely for Sam McCann, but judging by the ferocity of the criticism the State Senator from Plainview is already generating there must be real fear in Republican circles.

According to Rauner spokesperson Will Allison:

“Sam McCann is the worst kind of political opportunist who is only running for governor to line his own pockets. McCann’s unethical record speaks for itself: He failed to pay his taxes, racked up massive debts, lied about serving in the Marine Corps, and used his campaign account as a personal piggy bank, even buying himself an SUV.”

Rauner and McCann do have a history of butting heads over labor issues. Unusually for someone who describes himself as a “conservative,” McCann enjoys staunch support from several prominent labor unions.

Despite their history of antagonism, and the invective being cast his way by Rauner’s office, McCann is taking the high road for now. Speaking to POLITICO he denied he is running just to prevent Rauner from winning: “I’m in this to win it,” he said. “I’ve never run a race not to win it. I don’t run against people, I run to win.”

In a press release, McCann explained his reasons for running:

“When I announced I was not going to run for Senate, I said the Republican Party under Rauner was unrecognizable to me. Rauner has smeared the reputations of proven conservatives and abandoned the principles that millions of Illinois working families hold dear: economic liberty, traditional values, and law and order.

“I’m the only person in this race who has consistently stood up to Rauner and [Democratic House Speaker Michael] Madigan and their machine when it came time to fight for the rights of working people in Illinois. As your governor, I will continue to lead that fight…

“They have failed us: Rauner and Chicago Democrats have led our state down the wrong path. Higher taxes, backward morals and disregard for the rule of law is the Illinois they’ve created. It’s time for a real transformation for the state of Illinois.”

As his running mate, McCann has selected veteran and activist Aaron Merreighn, who appears to have been chosen to attack Rauner on a particular perceived weakness.

“Rauner’s handling of the Legionnaires’ outbreak at the Quincy Veterans Home needlessly put lives at risk, and his record on veterans’ issues is nothing short of shameful,” Merreighn said. “Sadly, it has become symbolic of the failed leadership in Springfield that governs by crisis instead of by common sense.”

Independent or Third Party candidate?

There is some confusion in the media about the party affiliation of Sam McCann and Aaron Merreighn. According to POLITICO McCann calls himself an “independent conservative,” whereas the Chicago Tribune and other Illinois media refer to McCann founding a new “Conservative Party” (although presumably not one with links to the long-established Conservative Party of New York State).

As of publication there appears to be no Illinois Conservative Party website, and McCann’s website advertised on his Twitter account, senatormccann.com, is not operational. The confusion and lack of a functional website indicate that Sam McCann has made his move without preparing much in the way of campaign or party infrastructure.

This will make his first task a challenge. To appear on the ballot McCann and his team will need to collect 25,000 signatures by June 25th. But it could be worse. Before the Libertarian Party’s legal victory against the Illinois “full slate” law last year, the nascent Conservative Party of Illinois would have been forced to run candidates for Secretary of State, Attorney General, Comptroller, and Treasurer in order to get ballot access for Governor and Lieutenant Governor.

If the new Conservative Party is successful in collecting signatures, McCann will join Libertarian Kash Jackson along with his Democratic and Republican opponents.

No longer enjoying inbuilt advantages establishment parties rely on, McCann may find the discrimination third party candidates face a rude shock. But McCann (unsurprisingly) has found a fan in Democratic candidate J.B. Pritzker, who is no doubt delighted to have someone siphoning conservative votes away from Rauner.

Responding to McCann’s announcement Pritzker said, “I welcome another voice to the race for governor at this critical time for our state. Bruce Rauner is a failed governor who has done untold damage to communities throughout Illinois, and people from across the political spectrum are ready for change.”

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