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Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 12:01 am

Dillard reaching for Rauner’s spot

 Illinois state Sen. Kirk Dillard told Chicago radio station WLS-AM last week that Republican county chairmen ought to try and get Bill Brady and/or Dan Rutherford out of the governor’s race so he could have a clear shot at wealthy frontrunner Bruce Rauner. Dillard claims he is building strong momentum with recent endorsements, including the powerful Illinois Education Association.

But two polls taken last week showed that Dillard isn’t even winning his own DuPage County-based state Senate district that he has represented for more than 20 years.

A Capitol Fax/We Ask America poll taken Feb. 20 had Rauner leading in Dillard’s 24th state Senate District with 36 percent. Dillard placed a distant second with 30 percent. Brady polled 10 percent and Rutherford was at 2 percent. Another 22 percent were undecided. The poll of 614 likely Republican voters had a margin of error of ±3.95 percent. Twelve percent of the calling universe was cellphones.

I didn’t commission the poll to be a jerk, but because somebody slipped me results of a Strive Strategies tracking poll taken Tuesday, Feb. 18 which had Rauner at 33 percent and Dillard at 26 percent in Dillard’s own district. The margins between the two men are almost exactly the same in both polls, so this is pretty solid evidence that Dillard is, indeed, losing his own Senate district, which he has represented since 1993.

What the heck is going on? Well, millions of dollars in campaign ads on Chicago TV by Rauner and pretty much nothing by Dillard is the simplest answer.

Rauner has not only dumped millions of his own money into his campaign, he has successfully vacuumed up pretty much all the available traditional Republican money out there. Campaign cash that Dillard, Brady or Rutherford would have normally been expected to tap has been Hoovered up by Rauner instead.

According to the Capitol Fax/We Ask America poll, Dillard is ahead of Rauner among women in his district 33-26, but he trails badly among men, 46-27. Rauner also leads among seniors 65 and over (perhaps the most important GOP demographic) 41-25.

Sen. Dillard said recently that the multitude of DuPage County congressional, legislative and local Republican primary races, plus county auditor Bob Grogan’s state treasurer bid, would gin up local turnout and help him defeat Rauner. But if he isn’t winning his own district, it’s tough to see how Dillard’s theory will come to fruition in the rest of the county.

So, what about that IEA endorsement? Well, as of last week, the teachers’ union had sent a mailer to their members touting Dillard and had given him $50,000 cash. Dillard has such a high overhead cost, though, that 50 grand won’t do much except keep the lights on in his office. Dillard received about $250K from the Operating Engineers union late last year and then spent pretty much all of it on overhead.

And even if the IEA puts more cash into Dillard and it all goes on TV, Bruce Rauner is spending a fortune on television ads and the latest We Ask America statewide tracking poll shows him leveling off, but still with a huge lead over the entire pack.

The poll of 1,323 likely Republican primary voters was taken Feb. 18 and shows Rauner with 35 percent, to 14 percent for Bill Brady, 13 percent for Dillard and 8 percent for Dan Rutherford – which is confirmation of the Chicago Tribune’s recent poll results that showed Rutherford’s numbers are collapsing in the wake of his ongoing scandal. Rutherford was at 17 percent in a We Ask America poll taken Feb. 3, which was nine points above where he is in the latest round.

The new TV ads being aimed at Rauner by the labor unions are also having an impact. The ads have whacked Rauner for associations with a corrupt bribery expert, and for alleged abuse at some nursing homes his company used to own.

The unions have spent about $2 million and Rauner has seemed to plateau since those attack ads began airing. He was at 37 percent on Feb. 2 and 39 percent on Feb. 13, then down four points less than a week later to 35.

But even if Rauner has peaked, the other three are a very long way from catching up, and so far none of them have the money to do so, and time is not on their side.

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

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