MOUNT PROSPECT – The Republican race for Illinois governor took on a combative tone Thursday as candidates at a forum took jabs — mostly at businessman Bruce Rauner — over allegations of clout, flip-flopping over the issues and questionable campaign donations.
It was the first time all four candidates appeared on a stage together in 2014 to give their side-by-side views on a recent pension overhaul, the minimum wage and Illinois' business climate, but comments from state Treasurer Dan Rutherford and state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard were peppered with digs at Rauner, a billionaire who has already saturated the airwaves with campaign ads.
Those included him recently changing his stance from cutting Illinois' minimum wage to being supportive of raising it under the right circumstances, questions over his daughter's entrance into an elite Chicago high school and the vast amounts of money he's raised. Campaign financial disclosure reports due Wednesday show he's brought in more than five times the amount of the other three combined.
"It's the constant drip drip drip of questions that I think will wash away in a flood any chance that our party has if Bruce is the nominee of defeating (Gov.) Pat Quinn in the fall," said Dillard, who loosed the first barb at Rauner, remarking he was glad the businessman could attend. Rauner has committed to only a few debates and missed one hosted by tea party activists this week.
Rauner, who called himself the "master at fundraising," said the attention his rivals were giving him showed that his message was resonating with voters and he was ahead.
"This has been a little bit of beat up Brucey morning," he said. "And that's OK."
Brady knocked Rauner's television ads and said he'd learned lessons from 2010, when Brady ran against Quinn and lost.
"The general, it's the big leagues," he said. "You're not going to be able to buy the airwaves. Democrats have money to counteract you."
Rauner, who is seeking political office for the first time, took shots of his own, calling his rivals political insiders with conflicts of interest who are tied to union money.
Rutherford quickly fired back: "No, Bruce Rauner, don't do that. You have no right to put out false information on me."
The event, which was hosted by the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald and WLS-TV, was billed as a forum about business affairs.
Among the most prominent business issues discussed were a recent pension overhaul to the state's nearly $100 billon public pension crisis. Lawmakers approved a plan last month that cuts benefits for state employees and retirees, but has already been the subject of lawsuits.
Brady voted for the overhaul and said his action would produce enough savings and aid Republicans' opposition to an extension of the state's income tax increase, which is due to be scaled back in 2015. Quinn has said the issue needs to be examined.
"If we delayed, the Democrats would absolutely have an argument to raise the income tax," he said of the pension vote.
Dillard voted against the pension deal and called for further discussion about the matter, Rutherford said it wouldn't survive a court challenge and Rauner said he was against it.
Quinn faces one Democratic primary challenger in March, suburban Chicago activist Tio Hardiman.