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Bruce Rauner still the focus of gubernatorial campaign as forces mount attack

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In what could be an odd partnership, Illinois labor unions are preparing to help Republican gubernatorial candidates. The beneficiaries are Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford and State Senators Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard. The target is Bruce Rauner because of his huge fundraising advantage that surpasses his three GOP Primary Election opponents combined.

This week, Rauner skipped some candidate forums, possibly to avoid getting “off message” or contradicting himself. Unlike his opponents, long-time politicians who have been in numerous debates, he has never had to compete in debate forums. Although this may not be actually be his strategy, some Illinois Statehouse insiders believe he is banking that his television “air” attack is so strong, he does not need a “ground” game, which would be volunteers in all of Illinois’ 102 counties. It resembles how a strong incumbent would run a race, meaning why even let voters compare you to your opponents if you are ahead and victory seems imminent.

The cavalry for Brady, Dillard and Rutherford comes from the Republican Fund for Progress and Jobs. This is a temporary marriage between GOP operatives concerned that Rauner could be the easiest opponent for Governor Pat Quinn in the General Election and trade unions that have strong concerns about Rauner’s views on pension reform and minimum wage.

Rauner had to expect a pushback from labor. His television commercials place unions and his opponents as key reasons for the state’s fiscal woes and poor economic performance. His strategy is based on that message resonating with the core that vote in GOP Primary Elections. But, according to Steve Shearer, the head of the Republican Fund for Progress and Jobs, who once served as the chief of staff to Republican U.S. Representative Aaron Schock, that strategy could hurt the party in the November General Election. Illinois is a very “blue” state. It should also be noted that although Brady, Dillard and Rutherford can’t compete financially with Rauner, Illinois labor can. For perspective, in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16.3 percent (887,000) Illinois workers were represented by unions. That is 44 percent higher than the national figure of 11.3 percent.

The Republican Fund for Progress and Jobs will lead the charge of raising the money to fight Rauner. It is expected to be a massive, combination “air/ground” campaign that may launch salvos as early as next week. Meanwhile, somewhere in Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn probably has a big smile on his face.

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