By Jamey Dunn
Republican candidates for governor touted their electability at political events centered on the state fair today.
Four candidates are taking a shot at winning the Republican nomination this year. Three are familiar faces, and one is a newcomer.
Businessman Bruce Rauner rode his Harley motorcycle into Springfield for today’s party breakfast and Republican Day at the fair. Talking to reporters on his way into breakfast, the first-time political candidate refused to get specific on a number of issues, including same-sex marriage and whether motorcyclists should be legally required to wear helmets. Rauner would only say that he always wears one. There is no law in Illinois that requires helmets, but there have been several attempts to pass one in recent years. Each time, the efforts have been defeated by the influential motorcycle lobbying group ABATE. “Today, it’s about victory and unifying the party,” Rauner said when asked to comment about his stances on social issues.
He was only willing to get specific on one issue. “We’re going to get term limits put on everybody in Springfield. All the legislature, as well as the governor, both today and in the future.” Rauner said that lawmakers and the governor should be restricted to serving eight years in office.
Rauner would not say if he would support making Illinois a right-to-work state. But he did say he looks to former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels as a political role model. Daniels, whose name was in circulation as a possible presidential challenger to Barack Obama in 2012, signed legislation in 2012 making Indiana a right to work state.
While Rauner may look up to Daniels, the priorities he listed today did not sound too different from those in speeches given by Democrats on their political day yesterday. He said he wants to help grow jobs, employ veterans, address corruption by bringing efficiency and transparency to state government and improve education.
Rauner highlighted the fact that he is somewhat of a political outsider who would bring business experience to the job. “I have never run for office in my life, but I love our state passionately, and I cannot stand to watch us go down the drain the way we are. I will not sit by and let it happen,” he said. “I’m going to bring business talent, business success, to the governorship in Illinois.”
Rauner said of himself, “I’ve been a leader at everything I’ve touched throughout my career.”
Treasurer Dan Rutherford pointed to his win for his current office as proof that he can defeat a Democratic opponent in the general election. “I’m the only candidate running for governor that has actually run a statewide race. I know how to win.”
Rutherford has attributed much of that that victory to outreach efforts in minority communities. “I know how to win. I know that going into communities of diversity is imperative for us as Republicans to earn the right to governor — communities of diversity of ethnicity and religion. I’ve done it. A great part of success is just showing up.” He said he could appeal to the independents and even bring over some Democrats. Rutherford said he would be able to garner solid support in Cook County.
He took a veiled swipe at Rauner’s lack of political experience in his speech to party leaders this morning. “It is good to be back at the state fair. This is not my first time here.” Rutherford highlighted his own hands-on style of politicking. “I’ve been to every single [one of the]102 counties,” Rutherford said.
Bloomington state Sen. Bill Brady, who lost the 2010 race to Quinn, said that his failed bid for governor has helped him to gain name recognition across the state. He said that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of former president George W. Bush, encouraged him to run again. Brady said Bush told him that his own failed bid for governor of Florida helped him to eventually win the office.
Some political observers say that Brady’s conservative stances on social issues helped sink his campaign in 2010 because he was unable to gain the support of upstate moderates. But Brady said today that candidates have to make their opinions clear, come what may. “People have to know what you stand for. They know what I stand for. I stand for less government, lower taxes more private sector business. Regardless of who your candidate is, if they don’t know what you stand for, they don’t know what their supporting or not supporting.” However, Brady said that he thinks the focus of the 2014 race should be economic issues and not social policy.
Brady and the other candidates will likely not be able to match the wealthy Rauner’s ability to spend on his campaign. “We’ve conceded the fact that we’ll probably be outspent,” Brady said. “I don’t think there’s any question the people of Illinois regret their choice in the last election, and we’re going to win this time around.”
When asked what his biggest misstep in 2010 was, Brady did not have an answer. “I don’t know that I can point to that. What I can point to is that we’re going to run a strong campaign, build on what we’ve done and finish the job we started.”
Hinsdale state Sen. Kirk Dillard lost the primary to Brady in 2010 by fewer than 200 votes. Dillard noted that many pundits have since speculated that if he had beat Brady, he would be governor today.
Dillard said to Republicans today that he could be the “unifier between the conservatives and moderates of our party.”
Dillard said that he has appeal throughout Illinois and the “right profile” to win a statewide office. “I’m a suburbanite with strong downstate agricultural roots. I will be a governor for all of Illinois. I am not a regional candidate.”
Dillard pointed to his time as former Gov. Jim Edgar’s chief of staff as proof of his ability work with lawmakers and get things done. “I have experience that money cannot buy. ... I once worked for the last clean and competent governor of Illinois.” Edgar is again supporting Dillard’s bid for office.
“I am the one candidate that is electable statewide. I know how to govern a Democrat legislature to get it to do things, and I’ve proven it as state senator as well as a gubernatorial aide — to get that Democrat legislature to live within its means,” Dillard said today. “I’m tested. I’m proven. And I’m committed to reinvigorating the Republican Party, but most importantly, making this great state of Illinois, the capital of the Midwest, work again.”
House Minority Leader Tom Cross was not in attendance today. The official line is that he had a prior family commitment and would be seeing his daughter off to college. However, rumors were circulating all day that he is considering a bid for treasurer. Cross had been planning a run for the attorney general’s office if Attorney General Lisa Madigan vacated the position. However, Madigan passed on a bid for governor and instead decided to seek reelection. While Cross was mulling his run, other members of his caucus were stepping forward in hopes of filling his leadership position. Since the revelation that Cross might stick around, he has been met with hostility from some of his members who were eyeing his job. Today, people close to the leader speculated that he may not have wanted to field questions from the press about a possible run for a different statewide office until he had made up his mind.
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno was on hand. She said she would not be endorsing anyone in the elections. “I could imagine endorsing all of them; consequently, I will endorse none of them. ... I think all of them could do a good job, so I am going to be 100 percent behind whomever wins.”
Radogno urged all Republicans who will be out campaigning during the 2014 election season to “remind our voters to keep focused on the result of 10 years of Democratic control.”
She added, “People in this state I hope are smart enough to realize at this point, 10 years of one-party control has not been good for them.”