In Republican gubernatorial primaries, wooing over GOP strongholds like McHenry and DuPage counties is like owning Boardwalk and Park Place on a Monopoly board – the odds of winning the game go up a few notches.
Bruce Rauner, Kirk Dillard, Dan Rutherford and Bill Brady know it, given the frequent trips they have made to McHenry County.
All four of them attended the annual pig roast held by Right to Life McHenry County at the end of June, and all but Rauner came back July 17 to the McHenry County Republican Party’s annual golf outing.
Rauner and Dillard came to an October county GOP fundraiser in Algonquin, and Rutherford and Brady made sure to send running mates Steve Kim and Maria Rodriguez to represent them.
“McHenry County is pretty important – we’re always on the list for potential candidates to visit,” county Republican Party Chairman Mike Tryon said.
But unlike other Republican-heavy areas like DuPage County and suburban Cook County townships, McHenry County’s GOP groups typically don’t wade into primary battles and endorse candidates or hold straw polls. They wait until candidates win the primaries, and then back them going into November, Tryon said.
Tryon, who is also a state representative, said he’s never seen the party at the county or township levels endorse in primaries in his 25 years of political involvement.
The county party’s bylaws forbid Tryon as chairman from making a primary endorsement. But that doesn’t mean that Tryon doesn’t have a dog in the hunt. His fellow state lawmakers have their favorites, and no rules that bind what they can say.
While endorsements in neighboring counties have been going the way of Rauner and Dillard, the two candidates from the Chicago area, local state lawmakers are solidly lining up behind Rauner, the Winnetka venture capitalist who bills himself as an outsider and has serious financial resources with which to pursue the governor’s mansion.
State Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, was one of the first local lawmakers to publicly support Rauner’s bid, calling him “the only person with the financial experience to turn this state around.”
Duffy, like other local lawmakers, were quick to defend the records of the other three, namely to protect working relationships – Brady and Dillard are state senators, and Rutherford is state treasurer.
“[My endorsement] doesn’t take away that those three are good guys,” Duffy said. “But if we want to beat Pat Quinn, we need to elect someone who won’t just win a primary, but win in a general election.”
Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, likewise threw her support behind Rauner as someone who can “shake up Springfield.”
“As wonderful as those three men are, and I know them well, as long as they’ve been in [Springfield] now, they’re now part of the problem,” Wheeler said.
Rauner last month won the GOP straw poll in Lake County, and Dillard won the unanimous backing of DuPage County’s GOP township chairmen – Dillard, of Hinsdale, used to be the county’s party chairman. Rauner has won straw polls, with Dillard a close second, in Palatine and Cuba townships in Cook County, and Dillard has earned the endorsements of former Republican governors James Thompson and Jim Edgar.
The Barrington Township Republican Organization earlier this month couldn’t make up its mind, so it endorsed all four candidates.
But Duffy warned, from experience, that racking up endorsements isn’t everything in politics.
Republican David McSweeney ran in the 2012 primary for the 52nd House District against former Rep. Kent Gaffney, who was chosen by the GOP establishment to hold the seat after former Rep. Mark Beaubien died.
Gaffney swept practically every endorsement there was to have – save that of Duffy, who was never enamored by the selection process and backed McSweeney. McSweeney came out on top of a three-way primary and handily won a challenge that November from Beaubien’s widow, who ran as an independent to challenge him.
McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, said he will not officially endorse a candidate until early next year. But he made it clear for the record that Rauner is a very close friend.
“I know Bruce is going to fight for lower taxes, less spending and real reform,” McSweeney said. “I think it’s a strong field, and it’s central that we beat Pat Quinn.”
McHenry County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, is throwing her support behind Rutherford, of downstate Chenoa.
“He’s done a tremendous job as a public servant, as treasurer and a state senator, and when it comes to politics, you have to be able to win,” Hill said.
Local state Sens. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, and Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, could not be reached for comment. Althoff endorsed Dillard in his 2010 gubernatorial run.
Money talks louder than endorsements, and Rauner has a lot of it, so much so that the other three candidates’ campaigns are accusing him of trying to buy the governor’s mansion. Rauner last month contributed $500,000 to his campaign, which under state election law lifted contribution caps on all gubernatorial candidates, Democrat and Republican alike.
A fifth Republican candidate for Illinois governor, Peter Edward Jones of Franklin Park, filed on the last day to do so, Dec. 2. His campaign does not have a website or other Internet presence, and he did not file with a lieutenant governor running mate. An objection to his candidacy has been filed, and the Illinois State Board of Elections will hold a hearing to determine whether Jones can stay on the ballot.