Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

March 1, 2014

GOP candidates seek ultimate unity

Bill Grimes
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — Two of the four Republican candidates for governor called for party unity, beginning March 19.

Candidates Bill Brady and Bruce Rauner told more than 100 people at the annual Lincoln Day celebration in Effingham Saturday that the real enemy is Gov. Pat Quinn.

"We need someone who can stand for our values," said Brady, the 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee who lost a narrow electoral decision to the Democrat Quinn.

"This is our year," said Rauner, the billionaire venture capitalist making his first run for political office. "We're going to sweep Pat Quinn into the dustbin of history."

Brady and Rauner were joined Saturday by a third candidate, embattled State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who has been fighting off allegations of sexual misconduct. A fourth candidate, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, was unable to attend Saturday's event but was represented by his running mate, lieutenant governor hopeful Jil Tracy.

Brady's 2010 running mate, Jason Plummer, introduced the gubernatorial candidates Saturday, but not before imploring the Republicans in attendance to put aside intra-party differences after the March 18 primary.

"Primaries are tough because friends end up voting against each other," Plummer said. "But I ask you to recognize the enemy is Pat Quinn."

Rutherford admitted that he faces an uphill battle to win the nomination after reports — some say instigated by the Rauner camp — of sexual misconduct in the treasurer's office.

"There are things that come up just before the election that make it hard to talk about the issues," he said. "I've got a couple of friends in the race, but I think the skill set I bring to you is important."

Rutherford noted that he is the only candidate of the four to win a statewide election.

"I could get into all the policy issues, but after all is said and done, none of it matters if you can't get in the big chair," he said.

Brady, a state senator from Bloomington, extolled his conservative values to a largely conservative audience.

"Effingham County is the conservative bastion of the Republican Party," he said. "I'm a conservative just as you are."

Brady touted his work on the pension reform and said his next major goal was to abolish the State Board of Education.

"We need to empower regional offices of education and local districts," he said.

Brady said he also hopes to see the personal income tax repealed to stimulate economic growth.

Rauner said he hopes to rebuild the Illinois Republican Party and stem the tide of families and businesses leaving the state.

"I love Illinois, but many of the companies I've built are leaving the state and many of my friends have left the state," he said. "But Illinois can be great again."

Rauner, who said he's the only candidate in the race who has never accepted donations from public employee unions, said his mantra is "more jobs, lower taxes, better schools and term limits." He added that he would like to see more technical training in Illinois schools.

"We're grooming everybody to get a liberal arts degree, but not everybody is cut out for that," he said. "As a result, jobs are going unfilled."

Rauner also had plenty to say about Quinn.

"Pat Quinn is the worst governor in America and I'm going to make sure everybody knows that in the next six months," he said.

Tracy, a state representative from Quincy, said Dillard — a longtime state senator who was chief of staff for Gov. Jim Edgar in the early 1990s — would use his executive office experience to revamp state agencies.

"The morale of state employees is so low," she said. "But you will see a change."

Two of the four area state legislators who spoke Saturday endorsed a candidate. Sen. Kyle McCarter endorsed Rauner, while Rep. David Reis endorsed Dillard. Sen. Dale Righter and Rep. John Cavaletto declined to endorse a particular candidate during their brief presentations.

Other speakers included all four Effingham County sheriff candidates — Darren Feldkamp, John Gardner, Dave Mahon and Mike Schutzbach — who warmed up for Friday's candidate forum with their own presentations. Still other speakers included County Clerk Kerry Hirtzel, judicial candidate Marty Siemer, State Central Committeeman Bob Winchester, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus and U.S. Senate candidate Doug Truax (see related story).

All three gubernatorial candidates spoke with the Daily News individually about their campaigns.

Rauner said he was pleased with how Illinoisans were responsing to his message.

"It seems to be resonating really well," he said. "Every voter likes the message."

Rauner said his lack of political experience shouldn't be a deterrent to success.

"I've been a leader and problem solver my entire life," he said. "We will have the most experienced, talented team in office.

"This isn't rocket science, it's common sense."

Rutherford said he continues to work hard, even though most observers believe the sex scandal dealt his campaign a fatal blow.

"I work hard, shake hands, look people in the eye and answer their questions," he said.

Rutherford, who denies any wrongdoing, noted that nothing like this had come up in 22 years of public service.

"It's totally false," he said. "I think it's all political.

"I'm staying focused on the issues as much as I can."

Brady said he believes Rauner will begin to lose momentum as the primary gets closer.

"We know we're continuing to move forward," he said. "Some of the luster of the Bruce Rauner campaign is wearing off.

"I am running as the only reliable Republican and the only one who can beat Pat Quinn."

Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, at bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com, or via Twitter @EDNBGrimes