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Bruce Rauner may just be too rich to stop in Illinois GOP primary

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Bruce Rauner’s wealth and wealthy friends may just be too overpowering for his GOP gubernatorial race opponents. In a week when the one candidate who could afford television advertising decided to pull the plug on ad buying, Rauner plunked another $500,000 of his own money into his campaign to secure victory.

Prior to what may be a knockout punch to his campaign because of a federal lawsuit, it was assumed that Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford would mount a vigorous television advertising campaign starting four weeks prior to the March 18th Primary Election. But, on Tuesday of this week, Rutherford announced that he was not going ahead with the planned ad buy.

Many Illinois Statehouse insiders view that move as the political equivalent of “waving the white flag” in a campaign. Per a WGN-Tribune poll of a week ago, Rutherford was trailing Rauner 13 to 40 points (percent). Rutherford was also trailing State Senator Bill Brady by seven points and only ahead of State Senator Kirk Dillard by two points. The insiders take was that Rutherford needed to pull the trigger immediately.

Rutherford, Brady and Dillard may have been hoping that the impact of anti-Rauner ads running heavy this week paid for by the Republican Fund for Progress & Jobs and the Illinois Freedom PAC would start to cut into Rauner’s lead. In previous and typical Illinois gubernatorial races, this would have been a problem for the front-runner. Rauner is different. The latest infusion of his personal wealth into the campaign raised his personal donations to his campaign to $3.75 million. To put this into perspective, Rutherford, Brady and Dillard combined entered 2014 with only $1.7 million in their campaign chests. The difference gets even more impressive when you add in the $7.5 million Rauner has raised from others, with a lot coming from a few wealthy donors.

It is true that many people don’t pay attention to political campaigns until the last minute. So, per last week’s WGN-Tribune poll cited earlier, there may be at least 15 percent of likely Illinois GOP voters undecided and sitting on the fence. But with Rauner pounding the airwaves with no other message except the “anyone but Rauner message” being aired by the two PACs, Rauner’s Primary Election victory may be inevitable. Two days ago, Dillard tried to bait Rutherford and Brady into dropping out of the race to give him a one-on-one shot at Rauner. Although Dillard has been the most aggressive of the three in going after Rauner, per that WGN-Tribune poll, Dillard has the weakest support of all the GOP candidates. But, stranger things can happen in Illinois politics. The next two weeks of debates, forums, polls and endorsements (which is a real strength of Dillard’s) will be critical.

Pat Quinn vs. Bruce Rauner isn’t a signed match set for November 2014 - yet. But, to paraphrase an old saying, the “fat lady” is clearing her throat.

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