Despite some pointed questions and critical remarks, there was no knockout punch in Tuesday's televised candidate forum featuring the four Republicans running for governor, experts said.
With time running out until the March 18 primary, Winnetka businessman Bruce Rauner, state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, and Treasurer Dan Rutherford are all seeking to resonate with voters.
"There was no clear winner," said Sharon Alter, professor emeritus of history and political science at Harper College. "Nobody made any mistakes."
Both Alter and DuPage County Republican organizer Pat Durante praised moderator Carol Marin's persistent questioning and not shying away from sensitive topics, including a lawsuit against Rutherford of Chenoa over sexual harassment. Rutherford declined to comment on the case.
Rutherford's legal troubles have hurt him, which is why Alter characterized the debate hosted by NBC 5 and the University of Chicago as particularly significant for Brady, of Bloomington, and Dillard, of Hinsdale.
Rauner has poured money into his election, including $1 million on Monday, that has paid for a series of television ads.
Alter noted that Brady and Dillard both piled on Rauner, with Brady comparing Rauner to disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Brady also leveled a shot against his fellow senator, linking Dillard with President Obama. Dillard, however, avoided any jabs against Brady or Rutherford, she said.
"Rauner was not dethroned as No. 1," Alter said. "The question becomes in the next few days who becomes No. 2 and potentially who's No. 1."
Durante called Dillard "more gubernatorial than the rest in terms of straight answers and where to go with the state of Illinois."
And he wanted more specifics from Rauner about issues such as abortion and capital punishment. "He did not want to go there," said Durante, Addison Township Republican chairman and a former top aide to Congressman Henry Hyde.
Alter thought Rauner stayed on message but noted that can be a drawback for a candidate. "Rauner has his talking points down so pat ... it sounded like it was rehearsed," she said.
Meanwhile, with voter turnout expected to be low, the election could be close, Durante predicted. "We've got a way to go yet ... I still wouldn't call it," he said.