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Illinois governor race all about Rutherford and Rauner this week

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Two people dominated the Illinois Statehouse this week, GOP gubernatorial candidates Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford and Bruce Rauner. Although there are actually six people running for Illinois governor in the March 18th Primary Election, those two candidates stole the spotlight this week.

Rutherford has had a week that would challenge any pol. He was hit with a federal lawsuit by a former employee, Ed Michalowski, of not only being prodded to work on political campaigns, but was also charged with sexual harassment, which essentially cause a media feeding frenzy.

Rauner had a good week. A Chicago Tribune-WGN poll released Monday had him almost lapping the field of Rutherford and State Senators Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard. The survey had 40 percent supporting Rauner, 20 percent for Brady, 13 percent for Rutherford, 11 percent for Dillard and 15 percent still undecided. The poll of 600 probably Illinois GOP Primary Election voters was conducted between February 5th and 8th, which after the early, but vague versions of Rutherford’s legal and political problems became public.

The only reason that Rauner did not have a great week was the launch of the ground and air versions of the anti-Rauner “shock and awe” campaign. The 12-page document from the Republican Fund for Progress & Jobs went to 500,000 plus GOP voter homes this week and a $2 million barrage of television ads, funded by the new Illinois Freedom PAC, also started this week.

Of the two, Rutherford’s week had the most impact on the race to replace Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. Rutherford started the week fighting back, launching television ads and on-line video announcements vigorously denouncing the charges. Those tactics were leading to today when Rutherford said he would release the finding of an internal investigation that would exonerate him of the charges. The key words are “supposed to” because yesterday he changed his mind and announced he would not release the report. By not releasing the report, many Illinois Statehouse insiders think his campaign is “toast” and there are rumblings within the GOP that he should drop out of the race entirely. Rutherford’s representatives state that because he was served with the lawsuit yesterday, it prevents him from being able to publicly release the report until it becomes evidence in the trial – that no way in the world can occur before the Primary Election.

The impact of the lawsuit permeated the campaign in a variety of ways like when Rauner skipped a GOP candidate forum on Monday, instead of attacking Rauner (or Pat Quinn), the three GOP candidates started to attack each other. An example was when Dillard asked Rutherford, “Are there any more allegations of sexual harassment coming at you from anyone else?” Which Rutherford responded by questioning the appropriateness of Dillard’s question. Rutherford even then was being peppered with direct and indirect questions related to the lawsuit that kept him from promoting his candidacy and ironically forced Brady and Dillard a lot of time responding to questions about the Rutherford lawsuit.

Of the GOP gubernatorial candidates, Bill Brady may have benefitted the most from the spotlights on Rauner and Rutherford this week. He came in second in the WGN/Tribune poll to Rauner, he is in better financial shape than Dillard and he could pick up votes from downstaters who want to support one of their own, but not Rutherford now. But once again, for another week, Governor Pat Quinn may have benefitted the more than any of them.

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