• Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times
  • Governor Pat Quinn, who favors spending on education and social programs, is facing a tough reelection challenge from Republican Bruce Rauner with big implications for Chicago/

Which matters more for Chicago—the mayoral election next February, or the gubernatorial election this November?

That’s not easy to answer, but Chicago liberals will be making a big mistake if their anyone-but-Rahm campaign causes them to neglect the race between Governor Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner.

Rauner, the Republican private equity investor, stands for lower taxes, less government spending, and the weakening of unions. He believes that struggling public school districts like Chicago’s mainly need more competition and more charters. Quinn backs government support for education and other social programs. He responded to the state’s fiscal crisis with deep spending cuts, but also by working with the legislature to raise personal and business income taxes in 2011 so that the cuts weren’t even more severe. He’s now trying to persuade legislators to keep those tax increases in place. (They’re due to expire in January.)

It’s a stark choice between a conservative and a liberal approach to government that will have enormous impact on Chicago. Spending isn’t the only solution to Chicago’s problems, but it’s critically important.

And Chicagoans will have much to say about the outcome of the governor’s race. In 2010, state senator Bill Brady beat Quinn in 99 of the state’s 102 counties. But Quinn edged Brady by 32,000 votes—out of 3.4 million—because he rolled up such a big advantage in Cook County, and especially in Chicago, where he prevailed by 400,000. This year’s race is expected to be tight again. An April poll by Rasmussen Reports had Rauner leading Quinn 43 percent to 40 percent.

  • AP Photo/Seth Perlman
  • Rauner wants lower taxes, less government spending, and weakened unions.

The election may hinge on turnout in Chicago, and on how good a job the city’s political activists do at the old-fashioned job of registering and mobilizing voters.

If liberals here overlook the governor’s contest in their zeal to oust Emanuel, they’re going to end up with a mayor’s race three months later that matters a whole lot less.