The next time around, in 2002, Quinn’s luck changed: He managed to secure the Democratic lieutenant governor’s nomination with a 42 percent plurality and then joined a ticket for victory in November. Blagojevich marginalized Quinn during his time in office, but the No. 2 slot turned out, to use the ex-governor’s word, to be “golden” for Quinn. When Blagojevich was arrested, impeached, and removed from office for trying to sell President-elect Obama’s Senate seat in 2008, Quinn was next in line. He became governor in January 2009.

To keep that post, he’ll have to go through Rauner, a venture capitalist who spent over $6 million of his own money (and raised another $8 million) to capture the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Socially moderate and well-funded, Rauner checks plenty of boxes for a successful blue-state Republican campaign. He and Quinn were statistically tied in recent polling.

“The difference this time is going to be resources, and I think Rauner has proven that he is willing to spend whatever it takes, if you look at the primary,” said John McGovern, a Republican strategist in the state.

Yet Rauner also might be the one opponent who could unite divided Democrats behind Quinn this year. Part of Quinn’s unpopularity stems from the severe budget cutting he’s had to do since taking office, including signing a controversial pension-reform law that an alliance of labor unions called “attempted pension theft.” But Rauner, who has focused some of his campaign, including his massive spending on TV, against labor and “government union bosses,” could push the Democratic coalition back together.