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Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 04:49 pm

Democratic ties plunge GOP governor contenders in polls

I had heard that Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner’s longtime personal and business connections to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel were “killer” issues among GOP primary voters, so I decided to commission a poll.

The question I settled on is pretty mild in comparison to what could be used in a TV ad, so the response may turn out to be even worse than the Capitol Fax/We Ask America poll shows, if that’s possible.

“Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate for governor if you found out he was a friend and political ally to Chicago Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel?” 1,102 likely Republican primary voters were asked on Aug. 13.

A truly astounding 83 percent of Republicans said they’d be less likely to support that candidate. Any time you see a “less likely” response above 80 percent, you can pretty much figure that the target is toast. But maybe not in this case.

The Rauner people have long known that this was a real problem for their guy, which is just one reason why they’ve been spending so much money this summer – almost $2 million on TV and radio ads through the first week of August, according to one calculation.

And the ties go deeper than the question reveals. Rauner helped Emanuel get his start in business, advising him to become an investment banker after leaving Bill Clinton’s White House and then retaining his firm. Their relationship made Emanuel a wealthy man, so the advertising possibilities are juicy, to say the least.

The problem is that nobody has yet laid a glove on the man. The other candidates either don’t have the money to go up on TV (Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady), or they’re husbanding their resources for the home stretch (Dan Rutherford).

There’s also a timing question that’s been debated by at least some campaigns. Attack Rauner too soon and he could have time to recover. He has the resources and infrastructure to weather a storm over a long haul. Attack him too late and it might not have enough of an impact, or the other candidates themselves might already be too damaged to do him any harm or may even be out of the race. Opposition research is starting to circulate behind the scenes, and let’s just say that some of it ain’t good at all.

And nobody needs an opposition research firm to figure out where state Sen. Kirk Dillard’s main weakness is in the governor’s race.

Rauner has attempted to make this a “change” election in order to avoid the usual Republican primary habit of picking the guy who appears to be owed the next turn at the wheel. Dillard has been in Illinois politics forever, which will work against him if Rauner succeeds in changing the tone. But the state Senator and former Jim Edgar chief of staff also has another well-known problem that looks to be just as much of a killer issue as Rauner’s Rahm situation.

Dillard often worked with Barack Obama in the Illinois Senate and he cut a now infamous TV ad for his former colleague during the 2008 presidential primary season.

“Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate if he had appeared in a TV commercial for Barack Obama before he was elected president?” the likely Republican primary voters were asked in the poll.

The “less likely” response was an astounding 82 percent.

“Dillard faced thousands of gross rating points driving the Obama TV ad message against him in 2010 and lost by only 193 votes,” pollster Gregg Durham said last week. “Nothing is impossible in Illinois politics.”

That’s true, but the Obama ad tanked Dillard’s 2010 primary campaign, which he barely lost to state Sen. Bill Brady. This year, he has lagged badly in fundraising and in the polls.

Dillard has two things in his favor.

The first is traditional Republican thinking. Dillard narrowly lost the 2010 primary and would’ve likely done better than Bill Brady in the fall campaign against Pat Quinn, so it could be “his turn.”

The second is Jim Edgar, a former governor who is still quite popular among Republicans. Dillard can barely open his mouth without mentioning Edgar and the former governor will likely appear in ads.

Whether any of that is enough to overcome the Obama ad problem is now the biggest question for Dillard.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.
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