CHICAGO (AP) — Locked in a neck-and-neck contest ahead of November, Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner sparred on jobs, Illinois' financial issues and qualifications in their final televised debate Monday.
Like the previous two debates, the matchup between the Democratic incumbent and Republican venture capitalist got personal at times with Rauner repeatedly referring to Quinn as a "failure" and Quinn deeming Rauner a "champion name caller." It is one of the most expensive governor's races nationwide.
Monday evening's setup —hosted by the League of Women Voters of Illinois and broadcast by Chicago's WLS-TV — followed a debate in Peoria that focused on economic issues and a Chicago face-off centered on topics important to African-American voters.
Here's a closer look at some issues covered Monday:
The 60 minute back-and-forth was likely Quinn and Rauner's last chance to make their case on the same stage and both hammered home major themes.
Quinn, of Chicago, focused on the drop in unemployment since he took office in 2009, calling it evidence that his policies are working. Last week, state officials announced September's unemployment rate fell to 6.6 percent, a sharp decline from a year earlier when it was 9.1 percent.
"Jobs are up, way up and unemployment is down, way down," Quinn said. He deemed Rauner a "job eliminator," saying Rauner's Chicago-based firm, GTCR, had dealings with companies that outsourced jobs overseas.
But Rauner, of Winnetka, said Illinois isn't competitive. He's said Illinois still lags behind other states and that taxes are too high. He called Quinn an "outsourcer in chief" with jobs going out of state.
"Illinois is failing on jobs and failing on taxes," Rauner said.
The candidates disagreed on what do about a 2011 temporary tax increase that's scheduled to drop from 5 percent to 3.75 percent on Jan. 1.
Quinn wants to make the current rate permanent, saying it's necessary to avoid "savage" cuts to schools and other services.
"I have the courage to tell people what they need to know," he said.
Rauner said it has cost the average family a week's pay each year. He wants to reduce the tax rate from 5 percent to 3 percent within four years and said Quinn was using "scare tactics" about Rauner's budget plan.
On Monday, Quinn was asked what he would do to alleviate long wait times for immigrants living illegally in the U.S. who are trying to apply for Illinois driver's licenses. Quinn signed a law last year allowing them, but the Secretary of State's office has since been swamped with calls requesting the special appointments necessary to get licenses.
Quinn said extending the income tax increase would mean more resources for the Secretary of State's office, but Rauner said the Quinn administration's handling of driver's licenses has been a disaster.
Quinn also ripped Rauner for proposing a tax on some services, such as trash collection. Quinn dubbed it the "Rauner tax" and said it would disproportionately hurt the middle class. Rauner says Illinois needs to widen its tax base.
The gubernatorial candidates differed on the role of charter schools, where teachers usually aren't unionized.
Rauner has given millions of dollars over the years to support charter schools.
"We need options for parents." Rauner said.
He also supports voucher programs, which typically provide public funds to help pay private-school tuition.
Quinn, who opposes school vouchers, said Illinois should impose a three-year moratorium on charter schools so the state can determine if they perform better than public schools.
"We need to invest in public education," Quinn said.
After the two candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, blanketed the airwaves with ads and crisscrossed Illinois, polls show the race remains extremely close.
A recent poll by Southern Illinois University's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute suggests it's too close to call with roughly two weeks before the vote.
It said 41 percent of registered voters favored or leaned toward Quinn, while nearly 39 percent went with Rauner. But of likely voters, Rauner had a slight lead with 42 percent versus Quinn's nearly 41 percent. Both findings were within the poll's margin of error, which was plus or minus 3 percentage points
The poll surveyed roughly 1,000 voters by phone from Sept. 23 through Oct. 15.