By Rick Pearson – Chicago Tribune
Wealthy first-time candidate Bruce Rauner remains in the lead heading into the final days of the Illinois Republican governor race, but state Sen. Kirk Dillard has surged to become the new alternative to the frontrunner, a Tribune/WGN-TV poll shows.
Rauner had 36 percent support — down 4 percentage points from a month ago amid a blitz of labor union-backed TV ads attacking his business dealings as a venture capitalist.
Dillard had 23 percent, doubling his support since last month, especially among Downstate voters. The veteran state lawmaker gained while state Sen. Bill Brady and Treasurer Dan Rutherford lost support in recent weeks. Brady was at 18 percent, down from 20 percent in early February. Rutherford, who was hit with a sexual harassment lawsuit by a former employee last month, was at 9 percent — a 4-percentage-point drop from the last poll…
…The race had been expected to tighten somewhat as voters began to more carefully consider their choices closer to Election Day. Support for Winnetka’s Rauner in the city and suburbs remained above 40 percent, but Dillard, whose home base is GOP-rich DuPage County, jumped to 24 percent in the region.
Downstate, however, Rauner saw his support fall from 35 percent to 30 percent, while Dillard’s increased from 6 percent to 21 percent. Dillard now stands tied among Downstate voters with Brady, the unsuccessful 2010 nominee from Bloomington who won the primary four years ago off his showing in the 96 counties outside the city and suburbs.
Dillard ran for governor in 2010 emphasizing his ties to moderate former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar. After falling just short to Brady in that primary, Dillard has sought to broaden his appeal to socially conservative voters. He has attacked Rauner’s moderate views on social issues, including the frontrunner’s support for abortion rights. But that may not be enough…
…Since the last poll, a coalition of public employee unions have aired ads alleging Rauner was tied to Stuart Levine, who was sent to prison in the corruption investigation of ex-Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, as well as negligence in nursing homes which were funded through investments by Rauner’s former firm.
Levine was a paid consultant for a health care business which Rauner’s firm later invested in. Levine also sat on the Teachers Retirement System board when Rauner’s firm sought to increase their business of investing teacher pensions. Rauner has said he didn’t know Levine when his GTCR investment firm won additional state pension business.
As for the nursing homes, several big-dollar negligence and wrongful death judgments were entered against subsidiaries of a nursing home business which received funding from GTCR investments. Many of the judgments were later stayed or overturned and are part of federal bankruptcy proceedings. Rauner has said his GTCR firm lost $60 million it invested in the business.
The ads may have driven up unfavorable views of Rauner. While the percentage of voters who have a favorable view of Rauner remained largely the same at 47 percent, the percentage who hold an unfavorable view rose from 10 percent in early February to 21 percent in the new poll.
Nearly one in five in the latest survey identified themselves as living in union households. Rauner has lost ground among this group. In early February, Rauner scored 31 percent to 25 percent for Brady among voters who lived in union households. At that time, Dillard had only 8 percent support among that group.
But in the new poll, Dillard had 29 percent among Republican households with a union member compared to 26 percent for Rauner. Brady slipped to 19 percent and Rutherford fell from 19 percent to 10 percent…
…Rutherford had tried to position himself as the chief alternative to Rauner, pointing out he was the only candidate to win statewide and noting he’d raised more than Dillard and Brady. But last month, Edmund Michalowski, the former director of community affairs and marketing in the treasurer’s office, filed a federal lawsuit alleging Rutherford sexually harassed him and forced him to do political work on state time. Rutherford has strenuously denied the allegations but has withheld the results of a taxpayer-funded look into the claims.
The poll showed the controversy has taken its toll. One-third of Republican primary voters said the lawsuit has made them less likely to vote for Rutherford. Asked their impression of the candidates, 27 percent viewed Rutherford unfavorably compared to 24 percent who had a favorable opinion. In early February, shortly before the lawsuit was filed, Rutherford was viewed favorably by 30 percent of voters and only 13 percent had an unfavorable impression of him.
Dillard’s favorability increased from 27 percent among Republicans early last month to 38 percent. Those that viewed him unfavorably increased only slightly — from 12 percent to 15 percent. Brady’s ratio of favorable to unfavorable remained virtually unchanged over the month. A total of 38 percent of voters had a favorable view of him while 17 percent had an unfavorable opinion.
Although Republicans haven’t won an Illinois governor election since 1998, the survey showed a high level of optimism that the party would be able to retake the mansion this fall. Nearly seven in 10 GOP primary voters said they believe it’s likely that the Republican nominee would win in November, no matter which candidate they supported. Only 28 percent said they considered GOP chances for a win in the fall to be unlikely.
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