If televised ad spending is any indication, the Republican primary race for governor is about to become a two-man race between Bruce Rauner and Dan Rutherford.
Rutherford’s campaign has said it plans on airing a series of TV ads in the coming weeks, starting in early February. Until now, Winnetka businessman Rauner is the only one of the four Republican primary candidates to air any TV ads.
The move should help cement an increasingly divided GOP primary field, at least in terms of fundraising capacity. Rauner has so far led the field by a wide margin, raising upwards of $4 million in the 4th quarter of last year alone.
Neither figure amounts to very much when it comes to TV ad spending, which usually requires several hundred thousands of dollars per week before a candidate makes a dent in the polls.
For his part, State Treasurer Rutherford’s numbers remain respectable, with his campaign collecting $393,000 in the final months of 2013. More importantly, Rutherford has around $1.37 million in the bank, a key figure when ad spending in the final weeks of the primary season gets underway.
Rutherford has promised to run a series of “positive” ads, in contrast to what has become and increasingly bitter battle between Rauner and his three rivals. In recent weeks, Rutherford, Brady and especially Dillard have gone on the attack against Rauner, hoping to offset a lack of TV ad visibility with free media and news reporting.
Rauner and his rivals have traded barbs and attacks over everything from the minimum wage and reports Rauner clouted his daughter into an elite Chicago public school to accusations Raner's rivals are helping Democrats and unions influence the election.
By dividing the field into those candidates able to afford TV ads and everyone else, however, Rutherford is positioned in coming weeks to make the campaign more and more a one-on-one battle between his campaign and Rauner.
While many political observers believe Rutherford may not have the cash to mount a sustained TV ad blitz like the one Rauner has already begun, it seems increasingly unlikely either of the remaining candidates will even find themselves in the TV ad game at all before the March 18th primary.
It’s a well-known political reality that voters don't really begin focusing on a race until the final weeks before Election Day.
With only two candidates on the Republican side able to air TV ads, voters are likely to have a difficult time seeing anyone else in the race as a viable candidate to carry the fight to Democrat Pat Quinn come November.