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updated: 3/9/2014 8:08 AM

GOP primary for governor: Echoes of 2010 with twist

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  • Clockwise from top left, Bill Brady, Kirk Dillard, Dan Rutherford and Bruce Rauner are seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2014.

      Clockwise from top left, Bill Brady, Kirk Dillard, Dan Rutherford and Bruce Rauner are seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2014.

 
 

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's win of a full term for governor in 2010 stung for Illinois Republicans.

It was a good election year for the GOP across the nation, and the governor's office was the post that could have let the party stop Democrats from having full control of drawing legislative and Congressional political boundaries in Illinois.

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They lost. Democrats drew the map that would hold for the next decade. And Democrats swept most hotly contested elections in 2012.

Now, three of the four Republican candidates for the March 18 primary for governor point to their actions in 2010 as why they're the party's best option to regain control of the top elected post in Illinois, while the other has waged a war against the political establishment.

They all want a shot at a likely brutal, expensive summer and fall campaign to occupy the governor's mansion.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, the 2010 primary runner up, points to pundits who say he could have beat Quinn that November.

State Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, the GOP's 2010 nominee, says the best candidate to take on Quinn this time is the person who learned from last time.

And Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford said his victory that November statewide makes him the best option to move up to the governor's mansion.

"Being Illinois governor isn't an entry-level position," Dillard has argued.

He's referring to Winnetka businessman Bruce Rauner, who has tried to craft the Illinois political establishment, including his trio of opponents, as the enemy, hoping voters will pick him as a fresh face.

"We've got one of the most corrupt legislatures in America, and I'm sick and tired of it," Rauner said at a Daily Herald forum earlier this year. "I ain't a politician."

And yet, he's running for the top job in Illinois politics and has given more than $275,000 to other political candidates and organizations since he started campaigning.

One of Rauner's first introductions to rank-and-file Republicans as his campaign began was at the Illinois State Fair last summer. He rode a Harley-Davidson motorcycle onto the fairgrounds for Republicans' day at the fair, political turf well-worn by his opponents.

He also dodged questions about whether he supported mandatory helmet laws for riders, foreshadowing a familiar theme throughout the campaign of saying he'll "look at" various proposals to ease the state's financial troubles while committing to few specifics.

Lately, he's been dogged by the problems of companies his firm invested in, including a nursing home that saw wrongful death claims after his firm pulled out.

Still, Rauner has won broad support from the state's business community. The backing has also helped him keep large campaign donors away from the other candidates.

Despite crafting the image of an outsider, Rauner has tried to wage influence in Springfield policy debates before he started running for governor and even since.

For one, Rauner asked Jonah Edelman to bring his education group Stand for Children to Illinois. The influential group eventually helped to push for changes in how teacher unions strike in the state. And late last year, Rauner got involved in the state's high-profile debate over cuts to teacher and state worker pensions. His insistence that workers should be moved to 401(k)-style plans nearly derailed a bipartisan agreement among Springfield leaders that was years in the making.

The proposal was approved anyway, and Rauner has spent months criticizing it as a "Band-Aid on an open wound."

Dillard voted against the proposal, a move that set up his final-weeks endorsements from public-sector unions and the campaign donations that helped get his cash-strapped campaign onto the airwaves with advertising.

As Rauner has spent months criticizing "government union bosses," Dillard has had to defend the unions' support, and has pointed to his family to do it. His father, who died the weekend before the 2010 primary, was a Hinsdale history teacher.

"The Republican Party has one man in this race who demonizes working people and members of organized labor," Dillard said. "The Republican Party is not some exclusive club for people that wear neckties."

The longtime fixture in DuPage County GOP politics fell short in the 2010 primary by just 193 votes -- less than two votes per county in Illinois -- and decided to skip a potentially costly and divisive recount to allow Brady to move on to campaigning against Quinn.

This year's primary election marks an important moment for Dillard, the longest-serving lawmaker from a traditional bastion of Republican votes. His seat in the Illinois Senate is up for election this year, and Dillard couldn't run for both. So if he loses the nomination for governor March 18, he won't have an elected office after his senate term ends in January 2015.

His multiyear campaign picked up its most serious momentum in the last several weeks, when the leader of the Illinois Education Association stood at a news conference and announced that the largest teacher union in the state would back Dillard.

Further union endorsements followed, and so did the money he needed to start airing TV ads last week. An independent union-backed group started doing work on his behalf, too.

"They're a motivated group this time around," Dillard said of teachers.

As Dillard takes a second chance at the governor's office, Brady is taking his third.

He finished third in the 2006 primary for governor, losing to Judy Baar Topinka and missing out on a chance to take on Democrat Rod Blagojevich. He won the GOP nomination four years later and is asking voters for the chance to try again against Quinn.

Brady has spent the last few years bolstering his credentials on the state's most controversial financial issue. The Bloomington homebuilder and longtime state senator was appointed as the Illinois Senate Republicans' member of a small group that worked with Quinn in 2012 to try to craft a plan to stem the state's escalating retirement costs.

Nothing substantive was accomplished.

Then, in 2013, further gridlock led to a special committee tasked with hashing out a deal. Brady served on that panel, and at the end of the year, lawmakers approved a plan and sent it to Quinn.

Brady voted for it, and he's used that vote to try to separate himself from his opponents as the only one to support a politically viable plan to cut teachers' and state workers' pension benefits.

He's proposed that local schools should have to pay for the pension costs when teachers are given salary bumps.

"Every school district and every college that gives a pay raise from this day forward needs to also pay the pension cost of that pay raise," Brady told the Daily Herald editorial board.

Brady in 2010 won the nomination largely thanks to carrying big margins downstate. He was the only candidate in the race from outside the Chicago area.

This time, Rutherford, of Chenoa, adds a second downstate name to the race. He's the highest-level Illinois officeholder of the four after winning the treasurer's office in 2010.

He points to that victory to argue running statewide in a diverse, Democratic-leaning state like Illinois can be tough for Republicans, and he's succeeded before.

This time, though, his campaign has been hampered by sexual harassment accusations from a former employee, charges Rutherford vehemently denies.

After a federal lawsuit from Edmund Michalowski claimed Rutherford asked him to do political work on government time and invited Michalowski to his hotel room at the 2012 Republican National Convention, Rutherford held a news conference in Schaumburg and pushed back hard.

"This is a tough business. Illinois politics is hardball. People will say and do anything they want to," Rutherford said at a debate hours later. "I'm telling you right now that those allegations are absolutely false."

Rutherford later declined to release a report from a taxpayer-funded investigation into the matter, saying his lawyer advised against it because of the lawsuit.

Even without further details, the scandal has damaged a candidate who often tries to tout his openness, posting on Twitter about both his policy positions and the mundane tasks of daily life, like running on the treadmill and watching movies.

Before the Michalowski accusations hit, Rutherford was poised to start a large TV advertising campaign, but he pulled back from that. He previously was the only candidate with fundraising power even close to Rauner's.

He's tried to portray a knowledge of government minutia, including his opposition to approving any new novelty license plates in Illinois because they can confound police officers.

Rutherford is the only candidate who voted to approve civil unions for same-sex couples in 2010. He opposes same-sex marriage.

The four are set for their final debate this week, televised on WTTW Thursday.

Meanwhile, Quinn has largely ignored his own primary opponent, Tio Hardiman of Hillside, waiting for the GOP winner.

He's already shown he wants to make the minimum wage, taxes and same-sex marriage key points in the general election campaign, and the race will start for real a week after the primary when Quinn unveils his annual budget proposal to lawmakers.

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