Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford declared Thursday that he was not a “Republican with horns and a tail,” as he and three other GOP primary gubernatorial candidates gave their pitch for who was best prepared to win over a Democratic state.
The Thursday night forum in Downstate Peoria was the first time all four of the candidates met for a televised debate — and it proved to be a more civil affair than a previous forum, which ended in a fiery clash.
With the TV cameras rolling, the four rivals sought to look more like statesmen than hatchet men.
“I’m a reasonable Republican. I think that’s the difference,” said Rutherford to the question of whether the candidates were moderate enough to win statewide. “I am not a Republican with horns and a tail.”
Rutherford is in a four-way race for the March 18 GOP primary nomination.
Also running are state senators Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale and Bill Brady of Bloomington and Winnetka venture capitalist Bruce Rauner.
Rauner said his campaign espouses a “unifying” message which includes his push for term limits on Springfield lawmakers, reforming schools and adding jobs.
He noted he’s made alliances with minority groups around the state, which could help bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats.
“I’ve got African American support. Many of the African American ministers in Chicago and Rockford are helping,” Rauner said. “We have Latino leaders helping our campaign. We have a unifying, powerful message.”
Dillard said he held the right template for winning in the general election because he’s “a suburbanite with strong Downstate roots.”
“Anyone who is a Democrat or an independent this time, it’s in your interest to have a two-party system,” Dillard said. “I have been described … as the one candidate who can beat Pat Quinn.”
Brady said regardless of a voter’s political affiliation, few Illinoisans could be happy with the state of affairs in the Land of Lincoln, including high unemployment, high tax rates and what he described as a bad business climate.
“I’m the only one up here who’s run against Pat Quinn,” said Brady, who was the GOP nominee in 2010, only to lose to Quinn in the general election by about 31,000 votes. “I’m the only guy I think who can build on that foundation, I think, and beat Pat Quinn in a state that’s dominantly Democrat. We’ve done it.”
The forum was sponsored by the state’s public television and radio stations and was broadcast live across Illinois.
Candidates did sprinkle in some mild jabs at Rauner, the perceived front-runner in the race by virtue of the millions of dollars he has sunk into TV advertising.
Dillard said Rauner would be a bad investment because of the “drip, drip, drip” of negative stories about his many business ventures would “wash away” the GOP’s chances of wresting control of the governor’s mansion.
Rutherford, meanwhile, said he didn’t have to have “training wheels when I get down to Springfield.”
For his part, Rauner said as the only non-politician in the race, he had something up on his competitors.
“I am the only candidate, the only one who hasn’t been in Springfield for decades … I am not the problem,” said Rauner. “Everyone I’m running against has been part of the problem for decades.”