CHICAGO — With a hunger to reclaim the Illinois governor’s office, Republican voters set out Tuesday to shake up the state’s Democratic-dominated political order, energized by candidates talking about taking on unions, unseating ‘‘career politicians,’’ and righting the state’s troubled finances.
The talk at primary polling stations from the Chicago suburbs in the north to the St. Louis suburbs in the southwest was of reversing the state’s indebtedness and keeping businesses and jobs from leaving Illinois. Describing their desire for change, people used phrases like ‘‘break the system.’’
To many, the race was shaping up as a potentially transformative battle over union influence, with some voters saying they want to break an alliance between organized labor and Democratic politicians in control of the governor’s mansion and the Legislature.
Organized labor was battling back out of concern that the leading Republican candidate, multimillionaire venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, could seek to weaken unions in the same way GOP governors have in states across the Midwest.
Rauner, a political newcomer who leads the four-person Republican field after spending millions on his campaign, says he would model his governorship after those of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, who both significantly rolled back union power in their states in what they said were necessary steps to attract businesses and reduce costs. Rauner faces three longtime lawmakers for the GOP nomination: state Senators Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford.
‘‘Rauner is going to be a bull in a china shop; we need a bull,’’ said Tom Sommer, a 57-year-old real estate broker from the southwest Chicago suburb of Hinsdale.
Sommer said he voted for Rauner because of his tough talk against the unions that represent public sector workers. The sentiment persists despite Democratic Governor Pat Quinn’s push to right the state’s finances by overhauling the heavily underfunded public pension systems, which earned him the unions’ ire.
Union leaders, meanwhile, sought Rauner’s defeat by encouraging members to pull Republican primary ballots and vote for Dillard, who has been endorsed by three of the state’s largest public-employee unions.
Republicans haven’t held the Illinois governor’s office since 2003, and Democrats have almost total control of other statewide offices as well as the House and Senate.