Rauner Burning Up All the Oxygen in GOP Governor's Race

Wealthy Republican increasingly garnering attention from foes of every stripe

Give Bruce Rauner this: If he’s not the front-runner in the race for Illinois governor, he sure looks like it.

Don’t take my word for it. Instead, look at almost every other political faction, organization, interest group or party in the state. More and more, all of their time, attention and money is focused on only one person: Rauner.

Take his fellow Republican primary opponents, state senators Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, along with state treasurer Dan Rutherford. All three are increasingly ganging up on Rauner, questioning everything from his electoral strategy to his campaign themes to his massive fundraising success.

“Mr. Rauner’s finally come clean and admits that his major qualification to be the GOP nominee for governor is that he can buy the election,” said competitor state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale. “Unlike my running mate, who provides geographic balance, being from Downstate Illinois, the Rauner ticket is all [in the] Chicago area.”

After much back-room maneuvering, all three felt the sting when the Cook County GOP took the rare step of endorsing the wealthy venture capitalist late last month. For his part, Rutherford suggested Rauner bought the endorsement, saying he’s “given a lot of donations.”

Rutherford also recently criticized Rauner’s much-hyped state bus tour, saying unlike himself, Rauner’s unknown in much of the state.

At the same time, outside interest groups ranging from Democrats, unions and even Republicans themselves are gearing up to drop big bucks intended to stop Rauner in his tracks.

Word has it groups like Democratic Governor’s Association and national democratic funders are looking at the race to see if Rauner represents enough of a threat to get involved.

For weeks, rumors have also been swirling that labor unions that represent public sector employees such as SEIU and AFSCME are planning to jump into the Republican primary battle with millions of dollars to attack Rauner.

While many union voters and organizations are no fan of Democrat Pat Quinn after the recent pension reform bill, they see Rauner and his incessant attacks on “union bosses” as a bigger threat.

Perhaps surprisingly, a new GOP-connected political action committee, the Republican Fund for Progress and Jobs, launched on Thursday with former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., at its helm. The Chicago Sun-Times reports the groups’ goal is to “educate” voters on Rauner, including TV ads that would not advocate for a specific candidate but steer voters to any of his three opponents.

And then there’s the fundraising. On Thursday, the Rauner campaign said it had raised more than $4 million in the fourth quarter of 2013, dwarfing the expected hauls from his Republican opponents. Rauner has already put much of that money to use, blanketing the state with over $1.5 million in TV ads touting his plan to “shake up” Springfield.

By some estimations, Rauner’s locked up all of the big money donations—and funders—he needs going into the March primary, including Republican mega-donor Ron Gidwitz, and Ken Griffin, who is the richest man in Illinois.

Throw in Rauner’s connections to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the state’s financial elite from his time as a venture capitalist, some of Chicago’s wealthiest and most powerful citizens and his own deep pockets, and you’ve got someone who is increasingly sucking up all of the available political oxygen in the Republican race for Illinois governor.

Whether or not the concerted efforts of groups across the state to knock Rauner off his game will succeed is yet to be seen.

One thing is for sure, however: When your name is on everyone’s lips in a political campaign, you must be doing something right.

But if your name happens to be Dillard, Rutherford or Brady, every day that goes by is making it a little bit harder and harder to breathe.  

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