CHICAGO – The Cook County Republican Party is making its first endorsement in a gubernatorial primary in at least 25 years, calling it a show of cohesion that could boost voter turnout for the group's candidate of choice in the state's most populous county.
The odds are in favor of Winnetka venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, the only gubernatorial candidate from the county, who is running against state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford of Chenoa. But some suggest that a Cook County endorsement could work against a candidate anxious to show he is independent of the Chicago area's predominance in the state Capitol.
The results are expected to be announced on Saturday.
Cook party chair Aaron Del Mar said Friday that the organization, which represents about 20 percent of Republican primary voters across the state, wants to do a better job using its muscle to back the strongest candidate for the job.
Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman, who serves on the county's GOP committee, described a "broad scope" of support for Rauner across the county, which will "show unity and support going forward."
Del Mar said he believes the party's experience in the 2010 gubernatorial race contributed to the push for an endorsement. That year, fractured support among seven GOP candidates diluted money and resources, and contributed to the election of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.
A leading political analyst says the endorsement could propel thousands of voters to the polls in support of one candidate.
"Even though it's nothing like the Cook County Democratic organization, they do have some powerful suburban organizations [under their umbrella]," Chicago political analyst Don Rose said. "Some have more Republican voters than a good third of counties in the state."
Across the state, 765,534 Republicans voted in the 2010 primary, the last time there was a race for governor, according to data from county clerks. About 162,000 voters turned out in Cook County in the 2012 GOP primary.
The weighted vote breakdown among GOP committeemen, provided to The Associated Press by party officials, demonstrated the relative strength of Chicago's northwest suburbs and the North Shore compared with Chicago's wards and south and west suburbs.
Speaking with the AP, three of the four committeemen in the most powerful townships said they had cast votes for Rauner in recent days.
Maine Township committeeman Rosemary Mulligan, a former state representative, said she was personally lobbied by both Rauner and Dillard, who's from neighboring DuPage County. She said she ultimately chose Rauner because of his close relationship with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel; the two men are friends and worked together on Chicago school reform issues.
Del Mar noted Rauner's fundraising prowess could help Republican candidates up and down the ticket.
Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf, speaking to the AP, said any advantage in Cook County would come from the candidate's message on education reform, his proposal to adopt term limits and his ideas on strengthening the economy.
But Dillard, who has won the endorsement of Republicans in DuPage, a traditional GOP stronghold, painted any Cook County endorsement as an obstacle to a Republican winning a statewide race.
"An endorsement by the Cook County Republicans of a candidate in a state that already has all four legislative leaders from Cook County and total dominance from Chicago City Hall could be a hindrance in a place like Peoria," Dillard said.