Rauner Opens Up Lead on Rivals

New polls finds candidate has support more than double nearest Republican rival.

A new Chicago Tribune/WGN TV polls confirms what many Illinois political watchers have suspected: wealthy Winnetka venture capitalist Bruce Rauner has jumped out to a big lead in the GOP primary for governor.

The poll of 600 registered voters showed Rauner with 40 percent, State Senator Bill Brady at 20 percent, State treasurer Dan Rutherford at 13 percent and State Senator Kirk Dillard at 11 percent.

With more than double the support of his nearest rival, Rauner’s strategy of flooding the airwaves with early TV ads seems to be paying off handsomely. Rauner spent much of the $4 million he raised in the 4th quarter of 2013 on TV ads, dropping a cool $1.5 million on ads to introduce himself to voters.

The numbers highlight how hard it may be for his rivals to catch up with only five weeks to go before the March 18 primary.

So far, only Rutherford has the resources likely to be able to mount a sustained TV ad buy campaign. Fundraising issues have kept Brady and Dillard off the air, a situation likely to remain until the primary.

For his part, of course, Rutherford has become embroiled in a controversy over sexual harassment charges that could well minimize his appeal to voters and effect his campaign’s fundraising efforts.

More important, the poll found only 15 percent of those asked to be undecided, leaving little room for Rauner’s rivals to expand their own voter tallies.

As well, some of the name recognition numbers don't look good for Rauner’s challengers:

Rauner had the highest favorability rating and the lowest level of unfavorable views in the field. Nearly half, 48 percent, had a favorable impression of the rookie political candidate, while only 10 percent viewed him unfavorably. Only 28 percent said they had no opinion of him and just 14 percent said they had never heard of him — a small percentage given his first-time candidacy.

In contrast, about half of Republican voters — 49 percent — said they had no opinion of Rutherford, the first-term state treasurer from Chenoa in central Illinois, and Dillard, a veteran state senator from Hinsdale.

Rutherford, the only statewide elected candidate in the field, was viewed favorably by 30 percent of the voters while 13 percent viewed him unfavorably. Dillard was considered favorable by 27 percent of voters with 12 percent disapproving.

Even without the polling, however, Rauner’s visibility as front runner has attracted attention.

At least one outside group has already begun to air anti-Rauner ads in a hope to slow his, while others, from Democrats and Republicans alike, are expected to follow.

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