CHICAGO – The Republican slate for the 2014 Illinois governor's race widened Monday as state Sen. Kirk Dillard made his bid official and launched a statewide tour, but the longtime lawmaker faces some big obstacles to get ahead of the pack that includes a venture capitalist, state treasurer and fellow senator.
Dillard began the two-day tour outside his childhood Chicago home, playing up ties to the area, work as former Gov. Jim Edgar's aide and his 2010 bid where he narrowly lost the Republican nomination to state Sen. Bill Brady, who is also running.
"I have a unique set of credentials," he told reporters outside the home near Wrigley Field. "I'm the solution and not the problem to Illinois."
Dillard starts the race at a fundraising disadvantage behind businessman Bruce Rauner and Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford. Dillard raised about $275,000 in the last quarter, after beginning the year with just $33,000 in the bank. By comparison, Rauner raised more than $915,000 in the quarter that ended June 30, bringing the full amount to more than $2.2 million.
Dillard brushed off the questions about his lack of funds so far. He said he started his last campaign with less money.
"Fundraising is something that is a cancer on the politics of Illinois," he told reporters after the speech. "I've always been able to raise what I needed to raise."
Dillard, 58, also will have to distinguish himself from the other Republicans.
Rauner has portrayed himself as an outsider who can clean up Springfield, Rutherford has shown he can win a statewide office and Brady won his party's nod in 2010.
"For any candidate, it's a change election," said Pat Brady, the former head of the Illinois GOP. He said any candidate must show a willingness to help re-energize the party, a focus since devastating Election Day losses last year.
Speaking to a handful of supporters outside the brick and stone home he lived in until age 2, Dillard touted his experience as a longtime lawmaker and his Chicago-area roots. The heavily Democratic Chicago area is where most of the state's population is focused. Dillard was set to make stops in cities including Rockford, Murphysboro and Lombard by Tuesday.
Dillard, a senator since 1994 and former chief of staff to Edgar, said he is the "most proven and tested leader in state government." He also criticized Gov. Pat Quinn and other Democrats for a lack of leadership. Quinn is seeking re-election and will likely face a strong challenge from within his own party. Former White House chief of staff Bill Daley is preparing a run, and Attorney General Lisa Madigan also is considering it.
Dillard is considered a reach-across-the-aisle Republican with moderate social views. He does not oppose legal abortion in cases of incest, rape and saving the life of the mother. He voted against gay marriage this year because a civil union law is already in place. He believes the issue should be put to a statewide referendum.
Dillard's campaign took subtle steps to distinguish the senator from the pack. Dillard said hefty fundraising was a problem in Illinois and a campaign video makes digs at Rauner's statewide "listening tour," which he did before announcing his official bid.
"He doesn't need to go on a listening tour of the state," says the announcer his campaign video, which was played on a screen set up outside for supporters outside the Chicago house. "His entire life has been a listening tour."
Rauner's campaign spokesman, Mike Schrimpf, said the campaign welcomed Dillard to the race.
"The more politicians willing to talk about the need to clean up Springfield the better," he said in an emailed statement.
Experts predicted another close GOP primary next year.
Political analyst Thom Serafin said Dillard will have to step up his fundraising game. But he thought Dillard has a good shot against the rest of the field.
"They're all in it, but with Kirk Dillard's track record and his experience, conventional wisdom would suggest he has an edge with Republican primary voters," Serafin said. "If Jim Ryan hadn't been in the primary last time, he probably would have won."
Dillard brought up the 2010 race, saying the Republican Party risks repeating some of the same mistakes, with a crowded field and, so far, no consensus candidate.
Dillard lost to Brady in the 2010 Republican primary by less than 200 votes. But he pinned that loss on moderate, suburban votes being split among several candidates from the same area — himself, former GOP Chair Andy McKenna and former Attorney General Jim Ryan.
"I wish the Republican party would have learned its lesson from 2010," he said. "We wasted millions of dollars."
Other candidates did not agree.
Brady, a Bloomington Republican, said the more candidates in a primary, the better it is for the race.
"It helps bring out the differences between the candidates," he said. "We'll have a healthy campaign."