A new Battleground Polling survey gives Treasurer Dan Rutherford a significant lead in the Republican primary for governor.
Rutherford is the choice of 27 percent of Republicans who have voted in each of the last three primaries, according to the automated telephone poll, which was conducted between May 20 and 27. State Sen. Bill Brady, the 2010 nominee, has 19 percent, followed by state Sen. Kirk Dillard with 14 percent, talk show host Dan Proft with 13 percent, and millionaire Bruce Rauner with 5 percent. Another 22 percent are undecided, or prefer another candidate.
Rutherford led the field in all categories of Republicans except Tea Partiers, 35 percent of whom favored Proft. However, only 15 percent of respondents were involved with the Tea Party. Far more significant was Rutherford’s lead among respondents who belong to their local Republican organization.
Rutherford has been an indefatigable attendee at GOP chicken dinners throughout Central and Southern Illinois, sometimes speaking at three events a day in three different counties. So arduous has been his wooing of the party faithful that he’s complained that campaigning for governor is an “eight day a week” job. But his travels are paying off. More likely to support moderate, establishment candidates, party regulars gave Rutherford 27 percent, followed by 25 percent for Dillard. Proft has 17 percent, Brady 13 percent, and Rauner 5 percent.
From the pollsters:
Rutherford and Dillard appear to be benefiting greatly from their familiarity with Republicans involved in their local organizations. Whether it be from their speeches on the annual Lincoln Day Dinner circuit, their hospitality booths at the State Fair, recommendations of local party leaders, or just having been around the GOP for a long time, Rutherford and Dillard are the favorites of respondents who are likely precinct captains or committeeman and who volunteer on behalf of the party and its candidates. While these activist Republicans comprise less than a third of respondents, they are hugely important in terms of gathering the signatures necessary for ballot access. These are also the Republicans most likely to contact their friends, family, and neighbors and encourage a vote for their preferred candidate. While this grassroots support can be partially replicated through direct mail, television advertisement and paid staff, it cannot be replaced. If Rutherford and Dillard can maintain their lead over the pack in this segment of the Party, it bodes well for their chances in the stretch. Of note, Senator Brady trails outside of the margin of error. This may suggest a “Brady Fatigue” among party regulars as the Senator embarks on his third gubernatorial campaign.
Despite his establishment image, Rutherford is the second choice among Tea Partiers, with 28 percent. Dillard has zero support among the Tea Party. If Proft decides not to give up his WLS radio gig to make another run for governor, “Rutherford may be in the best position to benefit from Tea Partiers in search of a reliable candidate. Perhaps because of his ties to Republican establishment figures like former Governor Edgar, Senator Dillard is doing remarkably poorly among this segment of the party.”
As the GOP looks for a candidate who can unite its moderate and conservative wings, Rutherford may be the best bet.