Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner is known for wearing an $18 watch in TV campaign ads. But when it comes to wine, he's not exactly popping open bottles of "Two-Buck Chuck." On Tuesday, Rauner disclosed he belonged to an invitation-only, exclusive wine club that cost upward of $100,000 to join. "I have many investments, and I am a member of many clubs," Rauner said when asked about membership with the Napa Valley Reserve wine club at a news conference. Pressed further on whether he was a member, Rauner responded: "Yes," without elaborating.
In the 2012 presidential race, Democrats were eager to paint Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch elitist incapable of understanding the challenges facing working families. The Republican candidate had a habit of making the Dems' job easy -- the $10,000 bet, the car elevator, the Cadillacs, etc. -- before Romney's "47 percent" video effectively sealed the deal.
Two years later, Romney is apparently still in demand in some GOP circles, but it's Democrats who are eager to put his legacy to use. In Georgia's U.S. Senate race, for example, David Perdue has been targeted with very familiar criticisms that come straight from the anti-Romney playbook.
Similarly, in Illinois' gubernatorial race, Republican Bruce Rauner -- by some measures, the frontrunner -- is also being labeled as a Romney clone. Yesterday's developments seemed to drive home the point quite well.
There's apparently some debate about whether membership in the exclusive wine club costs $100,000 or $150,000, but either way, as Philip Bump joked, "Bruce Rauner spends more on wine than average Illinois households spend on everything."
Rauner, who made his fortune during a successful career at a private-equity firm, also spent $100,000 on a parking spot and has described himself as belonging to the ".01 percent."
In other words, say hello to Illinois' Mitt Romney.
It's important to note that there's a flip side to this entire line of attack: it arguably doesn't matter. The truth is wealthy people tend to spend considerable sums on lavish things. Most of us can't relate to such purchases because we're not rich, but maybe questions about whether candidates are "relatable" just aren't important.
For me, I'd argue the more salient question isn't how wealthy a candidate is, but rather, what policies that candidate intends to pursue regarding wealth. I remember much of the media was fascinated by the cost of a John Edwards haircut in 2008, but the relevant question is what Edwards intended to do for those who couldn't possibly afford such expensive grooming.
It's easy to think of very wealthy candidates with names like Kennedy, Roosevelt, and Rockefeller who weren't exactly mocked for their riches -- probably because their policy platforms focused on trying to help those on the other end of the economic scale.
With this in mind, the fact that Rauner is willing and able to pay six figures to join a wine club is startling, but I'm even more interested in the fact that he proposed lowering the state's minimum wage.
Postscript: The timing of these revelations could be better for Rauner. Incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn, the Democrat Rauner hopes to defeat, is living on the minimum wage this week to prove a point about his economic agenda. The governor reportedly had graham crackers for dinner on Monday night.