Businessman Bruce Rauner, left, and his wife Diana, right, celebrate with supporters Rauner becoming the Republican gubernatorial candidate by defeating Kirk Dillard. | AP Photo
Rauner expects 'very, very tough' race against Gov. Quinn
Making the rounds of morning television news programs after winning the Republican nomination for governor, Bruce Rauner said he anticipates a "very, very tough" general election.
For months, Rauner treated his winning the Republican nomination for governor like a foregone conclusion, declaring he was the only Republican who could “shake up Springfield.”
But it was Rauner who got shaken up Tuesday night, eking out a narrow win over state Sen. Kirk Dillard in an outcome that was supposed to have been a blowout.
Rauner beat Dillard by a mere 3 percentage points, after dominating the polls for months, thanks to a barrage of TV ads bankrolled by his personal fortune and prodigious fund-raising ability.
As “Don’t Stop Believing” blared over the speakers, a crowd of more than 200 supporters clapped, shouted, cheered at Rauner’s victory party at the Hilton Chicago as news swept over the room that Rauner was the victor in the GOP primary.
“Let’s get ‘em. Let’s get ‘em,” Rauner told cheering supporters shortly before 10:30. “Wow what a night. Thank you for your patriotism. Thank you for your commitment.”
“This is about shaking up Springfield and getting term limits on everyone. But it’s also about bringing back Illinois,” Rauner said, flashing a toothy grin and the thumbs-up sign over and over as his wife, Diana, a Democrat, stood by his side.
Rauner also wasted no time in going after Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, whom Rauner blamed for sending Illinois’ unemployment “through the roof” in five years, defunding schools and making property taxes rise while home values were stagnant or dropped.
“He’s a failure. We’re going to get him gone this November. That’s right,” Rauner yelled. “Get him out.”
For Dillard, it was 2010 all over again.
Only this time, he was locked in a nail-biter that didn’t drag on for weeks.
The candidate who beat Dillard in 2010’s squeaker, state Sen. Bill Brady, conceded defeat early in the evening Tuesday, ending Brady’s third run for governor.
“Those pollsters weren’t very good, were they?” Dillard asked cheering supporters in a Downers Grove banquet hall after conceding to Rauner.
“This is another very, very close election. It shows that every vote does count,” Dillard said.
Dillard said he’s proud of the broad-based support he received, from everyone from construction workers, teachers, to farmers and single parents.
“Jil [Tracy] and I didn’t offer a plethora of slick slogans or commercials. We offered competence and solutions. And I congratulate Mr. Rauner on running a campaign with a very good message. But I am really, really proud of the unprecedented broad-based support that we have received. You know we were down a lot in these polls, and those polls weren’t very accurate,” Dillard said. “We came really close.”
He offered advice to state Republicans: “Follow our broad based coalition if you really want to become a majority in Illinois again.”
Dillard told supporters they’d see both him and Tracy “in a different capacity down the road.”
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Rauner had 40 percent of the vote to 37 percent for Dillard’s union-backed candidacy, which sought to avoid a repeat of the 2010 gubernatorial primary when he was the political silver medalist and lost the nomination by a miniscule 193 votes to Brady.
An hour after polls closed Tuesday, Dillard was bracing for a long night as he awaited to see whether a union-driven crossover vote materialized — and as the returns came in, it initially appeared union members were helping lift the Hinsdale Republican.
Brady stood in a distant third place Tuesday night with a disappointing 15 percent. State Treasurer Dan Rutherford held last place with 8 percent.
Shortly after 9:30, Brady stood with wife Nancy before supporters in a hotel in his hometown of Bloomington to concede defeat.
“This didn’t end up, in case you know, the way we hoped,” Brady said, his voice wavering at times as he thanked his family and campaign staff for backing him in his third run for the Executive Mansion.
“We’re not going to give up in what we believe in,” Brady said.
Rauner’s showing didn’t mesh with a barrage of pre-election polling that had him up by as much as 20 points over Dillard, with Rauner presumably benefiting from months of advertising in which he donned an $18 watch and Carhartt jacket and repeatedly spoke directly to voters with a vow to “shake up Springfield.”
Rauner, 57, of Winnetka, also put a bounty on the heads of the very same Democratically-aligned “union bosses,” who spent more than $3 million on Dillard’s campaign in a last-minute bid to knock Rauner off the fall ballot against the weakened Quinn.
Dillard’s campaign gained momentum in the primary’s final weeks amid extensive phonebanking and get-out-the-vote efforts by the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and AFSCME Council 31, all of whom were enamored by his vote against pension reform in December.
But heading into Tuesday’s vote, few seemed to give Dillard much of a chance to close the gap against Rauner. Quinn went so far as to air a campaign commercial attacking Rauner as the presumed winner for his statements in favor of rolling back the state’s $8.25-an-hour minimum wage, words Rauner later renounced.
While Rauner and Dillard prepared for a long night, Rutherford essentially threw in the towel early in the evening, delivering what sounded like both a bitter and defiant concession speech to supporters 20 minutes after the polls closed.
The wheels came off Rutherford’s once-promising gubernatorial campaign after a former male staffer filed a federal sexual harassment lawsuit against the treasurer, alleging he had been groped by Rutherford.
“These last six weeks, truthfully, have been the most challenging in my entire life. There’s no question about it,” Rutherford said during his statement in Pontiac, with running mate Steve Kim at his side.
“It’s been horrible for my family. It’s been horrible for my staff. It’s been horrible for the family of my staff,” he said. “And it’s been horrible for my friends.”
In last place and registering only single digits in recent polling, Rutherford was dogged by questions after the lawsuit. He also had to defend dozens of trips he took on state business and abroad in which a state aide accompanied him and shared a hotel room.
“I’m looking forward to vindicating myself. I’m going to tell you upfront, that is going to happen,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford closed out his brief statement, thanking supporters and sounding as if he intends to stay active politically after Tuesday’s votes are tallied.
“Dan Rutherford is not going away. Real clear, Dan Rutherford is not going away,” He said. “I’m going to be back. There’s no question, I’m going to be back.”
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