CHICAGO – Personal jabs and controversies dominated Thursday’s televised Illinois gubernatorial debate where the four Republican candidates tried to distinguish themselves – including two state senators who lag behind in polling and fundraising – just weeks ahead of the primary.
From the opening minutes, Sen. Kirk Dillard was particularly aggressive at making personal digs at the other three: Sen. Bill Brady on losing the GOP primary in 2006 and governor’s race in 2010, Treasurer Dan Rutherford on recent allegations of misconduct, and businessman Bruce Rauner for his massive fundraising and television ads that have dominated the airwaves.
The three weren’t shy about shooting back, with Brady accusing Dillard of being an unreliable Republican. But all four took aim at each other, from links to jailed business associates to time as “career politicians,” making the tone of the debate the most fiery yet ahead of the March 18 primary. Early voting starts Monday.
“My friend Bill Brady has lost twice and the third time’s not a charm. Mr. Rauner spent millions on TV ads, and like his watch, talk is cheap. And Dan Rutherford has had a tough couple of weeks which he blames on the dirty tricks Mr. Rauner,” Dillard said during the hour-long debate, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Illinois, WLS-TV and Univision.
The candidates were asked about pension reform, the income tax increase, gay marriage and their ads. But the focus was more personal than previous debates.
Rutherford addressed allegations of misconduct in his opening statement. He has spent recent weeks defending himself after a former employee filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and being forced to do campaign work while on state time.
“These allegations are false. I know candidly how tough this has made my campaign,” he said. “The truth isn’t going to be known until after this election is over with. But it will be.”
Rauner, who portrays himself as an outsider who will go up against “government union bosses,” alluded to the others as career politicians, prompting each of them to defend their leadership and time in Springfield. Rutherford was a longtime lawmaker before he was elected treasurer in 2010.
“I’m running against the culture of failure in Springfield,” Rauner said.
But Brady questioned Rauner’s allegiance to the Republican Party by bringing up Rauner’s ties to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat. Rauner is friends with Emanuel and he has contributed money to support Emanuel and other Democrats.
Brady also defended his record as a legislator in Springfield and said he has learned lessons since winning the GOP nomination but losing the governor’s office to Gov. Pat Quinn in 2010, making him best suited to take on again Quinn in November.
“I don’t think I’m part of the problem either,” Brady said.
The debate comes as Dillard and Brady lag behind the others in fundraising and polls, something both state lawmakers acknowledged and said they’re not worried about. Brady said his ads will hit the airwaves next week. Dillard has touted recent endorsements from teachers unions.
Quinn, who is seeking re-election, faces primary challenger Tio Hardiman, an activist. Quinn’s campaign has said the Chicago Democrat won’t participate in any debates ahead of the primary.
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