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updated: 8/27/2012 5:23 PM

Rutherford, Schock angling for edge in governor's race?

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  • Il delegate survey - Governor

    Graphic: Il delegate survey - Governor

 
By Kerry Lester
Politics and Projects Writer
klester@dailyherald.com

The tension in the air between Dan Rutherford and Aaron Schock might be subtle this week in Tampa, but it's present.

The two Republicans who reportedly are mulling Illinois gubernatorial bids in 2014 also have important -- and strikingly different -- roles in Mitt Romney's campaign for president.

Rutherford, the state treasurer from Chenoa, has spent months traveling around the state as Romney's Illinois campaign chair, telling voters that with his help, the former Massachusetts governor is going to fight for "every inch" of territory, winning independent and moderate votes in President Barack Obama's backyard.

Schock, a two-term Congressman from Peoria, is taking advantage of the national spotlight. His youth and close friendship with vice presidential pick Paul Ryan of Wisconsin have vaulted him onto a larger stage, aided further by the Romney campaign's fall plans to utilize him on college campuses and as a surrogate in tough swing states.

David Yepsen of Southern Illinois University's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute acknowledges that at the Republican National Convention, the "national story line may eclipse what may be a story line in two years." Yet, he also concedes, "there's tension there" between the two men, who are among the growing handful of Republicans mulling bids for governor in 2014. State Sens. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale and Matt Murphy of Palatine also are on that list.

"Republicans for a variety of reasons lost a really close race for governor in 2010," Yepsen said, noting the chaotic, wide field from which Bloomington Republican Bill Brady emerged victorious by only several hundred votes then lost the general election to Gov. Pat Quinn. "They don't want to repeat those mistakes again, but it's going to be difficult because there's a lot of pent-up gubernatorial ambition."

Schock, 31, gained fame as the youngest member of Congress, lending a youthful face to the GOP. He claimed his first election win at age 19 when, just after he graduating from high school, he was a successful write-in candidate for school board in Peoria.

Campaigning for his first congressional term in 2008, he was the only speaker from Illinois to take the stage at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. This week, he was scheduled to take part in several convention events, including a Medicare panel with Newt Gingrich.

And his national profile has enjoyed an additional boost from Men's Health magazine and Hollywood gossip websites, which occasionally report on outfits and workout routines of the second-term representative.

Rutherford has climbed a more traditional path up the Illinois political food chain, serving first as a state representative, then a state senator, before being elected treasurer in November 2010.

Rutherford served as Romney's Illinois campaign chair in 2008, providing networking opportunities that helped fill his own campaign coffers in his 2010 bid for state treasurer against Democrat Robin Kelly of Chicago.

"If you're chairman of the delegation, you use it for a political purpose," Roosevelt University political science professor Paul Green said.

When Romney is in Illinois, Rutherford generally spends much of the day by the presumptive GOP nominee's side. The March primary even featured his tweets about the salmon BLT Romney ordered for lunch one afternoon and Romney's morning workouts on the elliptical machine.

When Romney is out of state, Rutherford serves as surrogate speaker at Republican and nonpartisan state events and works with the Illinois Victory Program, which aims to maximize resources by using strategically placed volunteer centers to help candidates in races up and down the ticket, including suburban congressional races and Illinois House and Senate races. With Obama expected to win Illinois, the Romney campaign is paying little attention to the state, but, undaunted, Rutherford is helping raise significant resources here.

So his work as Romney's Illinois campaign chair is once again generating campaign connections for Rutherford, but high-ranking Illinois Republicans and staff members say he's been frustrated to find Schock included in Romney's national strategic planning meetings during the primary and general election.

Romney has put effort into winning Schock's endorsement. The web blog Politico reported last fall that Romney even showed up as a surprise guest to celebrate Schock's 30th birthday at a private Chicago residence.

Republican party officials say the Republican Governors Association plans to call a meeting in Illinois after the Nov. 6 election, encouraging a smaller primary this time around. If Rutherford, Schock and Brady all join the fray, many veterans foresee a repeat of the crowded 2010 field, noting that their similar bases -- all are located within a 100-mile radius downstate -- could benefit suburban candidates like Dillard and Murphy, should they too squeeze into the picture.

Asked at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield about his possible run for governor, Rutherford said only, "it is an option that's out there." He said he "will focus on that when the time comes."

Right now, he said, his focus is on two things: "electing Mitt Romney to be president of the United States, and electing Republican members to the county boards."

"That's where my party needs to build as we move forward," Rutherford said.

Schock also has not confirmed whether he will run for governor in 2014, but recent actions -- including a June MSNBC debate with Gov. Pat Quinn and a subsequent standoff at a governor's mansion event for the Special Olympics -- indicate that he could be readying himself for a potential fight.

Some speculate that Schock might also be considering a U.S. Senate bid in two years, if Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin does not seek re-election. The national perspective he's gaining through his work with Romney helps keep those options open.

"Politics is like pool," Green said. "You've always got to play one or two shots ahead."

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