On March 18, Illinois Republicans will select their candidate for governor to challenge Pat Quinn in the November 4th general election. A year ago the chatter was about U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock and Attorney General Lisa Madigan squaring off in a general election with the primaries simply being a coronation for both. Now, Pat Quinn stands virtually unopposed for the Democratic nod (Tio Hardiman is still on the ballot) and there are four serious GOP contenders.
With early voting for the primary beginning on March 3rd and Election Day a month away, there are only a few precious days left for the GOP candidates to make an impression. Here is a look at what each candidate must do and avoid in the time remaining:
Rauner is now a clear front runner. A recent Chicago Tribune poll showed the venture capitalist well ahead of the rest of the pack and confirms a trend that developed back in November. Rauner has donated more of his own money to his campaign that the other three candidates have raised for theirs...combined. The Winnetka businessman has spent that money on saturating the air waves with ads blasting Gov. Pat Quinn and promoting his ideas for term limits and education reform. His catchy campaign slogan, "Shake up Springfield, bring back Illinois" has been repeated enough on radio and TV to be remembered by voters. The public response to him has been positive, even in the face of allegations that he "clouted" his daughter into Payton College Prep and is too cozy with insider Democrats.
Rauner wins if... he keeps his composure. He has a healthy lead in the polls and will skip several governor's forums between now and March 18th. Unlike Judy Baar Topinka's 2006 campaign, Rauner can't afford to skip all the remaining televised debates. He needs as much face time with the public as possible to counter some of the union assaults that are being launched against him. He also needs to sustain his attacks on Gov. Quinn before the statewide Democratic campaign machine fully activates. The other GOP candidates need Rauner to make a big mistake, so his goal is to not make one. Rauner should ignore his GOP opponents, focus his attacks on Pat Quinn and deliver his economic, education and term limit talking points while avoiding the temptation to fire back at all his critics. He must avoid coming across as angry or thin-skinned.
Rauner loses if... he losses his temper on camera or a scandal breaks. A governor has to show leadership and composure to be taken seriously. Rutherford, Dillard and Brady will throw everything they have at Rauner to bait him into engaging them. As long as Rauner can avoid a "teachable moment," his only other concern is any possible scandal that could emerge from his past. Every union leader and Democratic operative in the state is digging for one so if something is in his past, it will be discovered. So far, the criticism's against him have done minimal damage.
State Senator Bill Brady
Brady will not go down without a fight. This is Brady's 3rd run for governor so his name is almost universally known throughout the state. In 2010, he narrowly won the GOP primary and lost to Pat Quinn in the general election by just 31,834 votes out of nearly 3.5 million cast. A lot of political analysts wrote him off for 2014. If he couldn't beat Quinn in a year when Democrats across the state struggled, what were his chances four years later against the same opponent? Apparently, pretty decent. The Chicago Tribune poll that showed Rauner in the lead also showed Brady in a solid 2nd place position. Brady is a long time state legislator and has played a key roll in several pieces of legislation, most recently, the state's attempt at pension reform. He is well known for his social conservatism and staunch support for the business community and gun rights.
Brady wins if... Rauner stumbles, Rutherford gets out of the race and he has stellar earned media appearances. Brady was able to win the 2010 GOP primary by consolidating his downstate support while his opponents shredded each other in the Chicago metro area. This time, Dan Rutherford has been challenging Brady's support in central and western parts of the state, where he also has a base of support. With Rutherford's recent struggles, Brady stands to be the beneficiary of votes, if not fundraising dollars. If Rutherford does drop out and at least two-thirds of his supporters go with Brady, it will be a big boost. Brady will have plenty of earned media opportunities with televised debates and candidate profile interviews. He needs to be stellar at all of them to convince people he is still a viable choice.
Brady loses if... Rutherford stays in the race and Brady fails to make a personal connection with voters. If Rutherford stays in the race, he will probably suck enough central Illinois votes away from Brady to prevent him from winning. Even if Rutherford does drop out, Brady still has to talk more about his family and personal life. Even after nearly a decade of running statewide, most voters don't have much of a personal connection with Brady's life story. If they did, his numbers would probably be better.
State Senator Kirk Dillard
Dillard's second run for governor has been more challenging than his first, mainly because Bruce Rauner emerged from nowhere to absorb much of Dillard's donor base. However, Dillard has plenty of good will left over from his 2010 primary run and his years of service in DuPage county. The Hinsdale Republican also has former Illinois governors Jim Edgar and Jim Thompson on his side as well as several state lawmakers and committeeman from the densely populated western suburbs of Chicago. Perhaps Dillard's best feature aside from experience is that he is a likable guy who comes across as both competent and warm during television appearances. However, he has been lagging in the polls and has little money to do any serious media buys.
Dillard wins if... Rauner slips, the endorsements keep piling up, Brady is unable to get his voters out and public unions decide to get more seriously involved. A serious Rauner slip up could send donors to Dillard which would change the dynamics of the race. Dillard recently received the endorsement of the 130,000 member Illinois Education Association (the union group for teachers outside Chicago) and the Daily Herald newspaper. If the IEA makes a serious donation to Dillard, it could make a big difference and other newspaper endorsements will give him free positive press across the state. His "Make Illinois work again" slogan has not caught on and many voters may be confused as to what Dillard's priorities as governor would be. In the last couple weeks, he needs to zone in on a couple quick talking points and hammer them home so voters know what to expect from him. Also, Illinois Democrats are frightened by Bruce Rauner, but feel a bit more comfortable with Dillard. If those unions decide to get involved with manpower and votes in the GOP primary, Dillard would be a big beneficiary. This point is a huge wild card, so the union impact could be very small or a game changer. We may not know the answer to that until March 18th.
Dillard loses if... The endorsements don't keep rolling in and Rauner becomes the "inevitable" candidate. If Dillard doesn't make a dent in Rauner's lead by the time early voting begins, the "inevitability" factor may start to set in where even Dillard leaning voters decide to jump on the Rauner bandwagon. If Rauner picks up major media endorsements in the Chicago metro, it will be a blow to Dillard's chances.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford
We don't need to recap all the salacious allegations Treasurer Rutherford is facing here. Suffice to say that his hopes of being governor are now very slim and the chances that he is able to finish his term as Treasurer may be in doubt, too. Whether or not the charges are true or even partially true, Rutherford's handling of the scandal has been shaky. It calls into question his judgment and stability as a leader. Those questions can be overcome by someone running for the legislature but it is nearly impossible to overlook those questions if you want to be governor of the 5th largest U.S. state.
Rutherford wins if... Ed. Michalowski reveals that he contrived all the allegations and says Bruce Rauner paid him off to do it. Even then, it may not be enough to put Rutherford back in contention, but at least it would discredit the allegations and put Bruce Rauner on his heals. Since this scenario is not likely to play out, let's just say that it will be a small victory for Rutherford if this lawsuit is dropped, everyone in his office stays quiet about misconduct and he can finish his term as Treasurer. If he loses the primary, Democrats may step up the pressure on him to resign as Treasurer so Gov. Quinn can appoint either State Sen. Mike Frerichs (the Democrat already running for the seat) or another placeholder to increase the odds of the Dems winning back the seat in November.
Rutherford loses if... any more credible misconduct allegations emerge. Rutherford can live to fight another day and salvage his reputation if he tackles the lawsuit in court, but it won't be in time to save his 2014 bid for governor.
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