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Mudslinging season arrives in Illinois GOP gubernatorial race

Illinois capitol
Levi Moore

With a little more than 8 weeks left before the March 18th Illinois Primary Election, the gloves are off in the GOP race to replace Pat Quinn in the November 2014 General Election. A Republican candidates’ forum in Mt. Prospect yesterday illustrated that this will be a bare-knuckle brawl.

The epicenter of the gubernatorial race is starting to become GOP candidate Bruce Rauner. His ability to make substantial personal contributions to his campaign and attract other wealthy donors has changed the race. His $1 million- plus self-funding lifted the mandatory fund raising caps for this election.

In the last quarter of 2013 alone, Rauner raised $3.1 million and donated another $1 million to himself, which led him to tout ability to go “toe – to – toe” with Quinn. For perspective, in that same period, State Treasurer Dan Rutherford raise $ 393,000, State Senator Kirk Dillard raise $328,700 and State Senator Bill Brady raised $ 74,000.

Rauner’s fundraising lead drew the ire of his opponents at the forum. State Senator Kirk Dillard said, “Mr. Rauner’s finally come clean and admits that his major qualification to be the GOP nominee for governor is that he can buy the election.” But, the attacks on Rauner weren’t limited to fundraising. He was challenged on his alleged use of influence to get his daughter into the prestigious Walter Payton College Prep High School, his relationship with Rod Blagojevich conspirator Stuart Levine, his varying statements on raising/reducing/maintaining the state-minimum wage and even his campaign experience.

Dillard said, "This state has a history of not electing people who somehow appear out of touch. There will be questions about how he uses his money, how he uses his influence." In a reference to his campaign experience and apparent flip-flopping, Brady said, "Bruce, to be candid with you, you don't know the difference between running quarterback for Joliet Catholic and Notre Dame."

But Rauner didn’t just sit quietly and take the hits. He fired back accusing Dillard and Rutherford of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from unions, which prompted Rutherford to state, “No, Bruce Rauner don’t do that. That’s not correct. You have no right to put out false information out there.”

Regardless of who helped themselves the most in Mt. Prospect, the three GOP candidates not named Bruce Rauner need to be worried. Rauner spent $3.2 million on advertising in the last quarter of 2014 and has $400,000 to start 2014 in his push to face Quinn. Dillard entered 2014 with $144,866 in cash that is saddled with $50,000 in personal debt. Brady is in better shape, starting 2014 with $271,213 in the bank. But, Rutherford’s cash position is different. As of December 31st, he had $1.37 million in his political fund. It’s not Rauner-esque, but it would allow him to buy decent blocks of television ads. The “x” factor is how much more will Rauner raise and personally put into his campaign.

With the fundraising limits lifted because of Rauner, it helps Governor Pat Quinn too. He too can amass large amounts of campaign cash, with heavy contributions expected from labor – who generally fear a Governor Rauner. So with no hard primary fight, the winner yesterday may have actually been Pat Quinn.

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