After the holidays, Illinois voters will be treated to another dizzying season – one that involves campaign ads, stump speeches and soundbites.
The March primary season has arrived. Republican voters will soon decide a challenger to Gov. Pat Quinn from a crowded field of new and familiar faces.
Elections generally favor incumbents, but many view Quinn as vulnerable since he narrowly won his first full term as governor in 2010.
With a legislature dominated by Democrats, Republicans also are eager to send their first candidate back to the Governor’s Mansion since former Gov. George Ryan left embroiled in scandal in 2003 that eventually sent him to prison.
Here’s a look at the four Republican candidates on the March 18 primary ballot vying to challenge Quinn in November.
State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington
The downstate Republican came close to defeating Quinn in 2010, losing by roughly 32,000 votes. Brady won 98 of the state’s 102 counties but lost the most populous one – Cook County, a traditional stronghold for Democrats.
The state’s poor economic health and Quinn’s income tax hike support all favorably carried Brady into the final moments of the 2010 campaign. But Quinn’s campaign turned voters’ attention to Brady’s social conservatism, a political philosophy that doesn’t play well with some right-centered suburban voters.
Brady in this campaign has shied away from his socially conservative positions on issues such as abortion and gun control, and has focused on the state’s economy and financial health. He also helped the recent pension reform deal pass the Illinois Senate.
On his campaign website, Brady would strictly cut government spending to try and balance Illinois’ budget. He would let the 2011 temporary income tax increase expire in 2015, an issue expected to dominate the gubernatorial race.
Brady first launched a bid for governor in 2006, finishing third in the Republican primary. The 52-year-old Bloomington native also helps run the family’s real estate business that has financially struggled since the economic recession.
State Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale
The chief of staff to former Gov. Jim Edgar narrowly lost a chance to compete against Quinn.
Brady defeated the DuPage County senator by a mere 193 votes in the GOP primary four years ago.
Dillard will try to right his campaign in 2014, but he already has a messaging snafu. Dillard voted against the brokered pension reform in December, while his running mate Sen. Jill Tracy, R-Quincy, voted for it.
Primary opponents have yet to seize on the inconsistency between the Dillard ticket, but the pension deal for candidates on both sides will likely be a reoccurring issue throughout the election.
Dillard, 58, brings decades of political experience as a statewide candidate, having served policy roles for both Edgar and former Gov. Jim Thompson. A Republican statehouse leader, Dillard has served 20 years in the Senate.
Dillard’s campaign focuses on economic and budget issues, according to his website.
His “Destination Illinois” plan would make Illinois business friendly and shrink the scope of state government – all positions that resonate with typical Republican voters.
The Pontiac native is the only GOP candidate to hold statewide office, easily winning the down-ballot race for treasurer in 2010 over Democratic candidate Robin Kelly.
Quick to tout his accomplishments, Rutherford appeared to be plotting a governor run after his 2010 victory. But he encountered early problems in the Treasurer’s Office, primarily with the botched promotion of the Bright Star college savings program.
He also faced criticism when thousands of recipients from a different college savings program received mailers with their Social Security numbers printed on the front.
Rutherford has tried to make a name as a taxpayer steward, cutting equipment and supplies while in office. Rutherford has focused his 2014 campaign on the state’s fiscal woes while highlighting his statewide executive experience.
The son of pizza shop owners, Rutherford often mentions how he worked as a child and into college, graduating without any student loan debt. He worked at ServiceMaster Company for 25 years, before retiring in 2010.
The wealthy businessman from Winnetka spent big money ($1.5 million) on early TV ads this holiday season to introduce himself to Illinois voters.
As a first-time candidate with deep pockets, Rauner has branded himself a political outsider, who will challenge the Springfield status quo and public unions in the mold of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
He also launched a ballot initiative to create term limits through a constitutional amendment.
Rauner recently started a “Hammer and Shake” website and social media campaign that emphasizes his promises to hammer out the special interests in Illinois government and shake up Springfield.
But Rauner has also avoided talking in detail about his work as a venture capitalist. His recently disclosed federal income tax returns show that he made $53 million in 2012 from various hedge funds and business partnerships.
Rauner’s business dealings at the Chicago-based private equity firm GTCR also helped Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel earn millions, after Emanuel left the Clinton administration to become an investment banker. The two have remained friends.
Going forward, Rauner likely will use his large war chest to increase his recognition with suburban and downstate Republican voters, while his primary rivals hammer away at his political inexperience and ties to powerful Chicago Democrats.