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GOP gov field fans out as Truax, Oberweis joust over Florida trip

Republican gubernatorial frontrunner Bruce Rauner ventured downstate Saturday while rivals Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard aimed to shore up their suburban bases by marching in a Naperville St. Patrick’s Day parade during the final weekend push before Tuesday’s primary.

Inexplicably, the fourth GOP candidate for governor, Treasurer Dan Rutherford, went dark with his campaign Saturday.

And U.S. Senate hopeful Jim Oberweis, still facing fallout from his trip last week to Florida to be with his wife at the peak of his campaign, made time to get to the airport Saturday to pick her up after her arrival from the Sunshine State and took new hits from rival Doug Truax over the dust-up.

That’s how the major GOP candidates for governor and U.S. Senate kicked off the final, pre-election weekend in the state’s two marquee political races – along with throwing a few elbows at one another, of course.

Rauner, who appears strongest in suburban Cook and the collar counties based on recent polling, veered into central and far southern Illinois Saturday, making stops in Peoria, Lawrenceville, Carmi and Bloomington, which is Brady’s home turf.

“This is our year. This is our election. We’re going to sweep Pat Quinn into the dustbin of history, and we’re going to turn this state around,” Rauner told about 30 supporters inside Lucca Grill, a downtown Bloomington pub.

Rauner justified his time Downstate, saying, “This is a campaign for the whole state. Every part of the state is important.”

Ahead in some polls by more than 20 percent over Dillard and even more over Brady and Rutherford, Rauner has begun airing television ads that take aim at Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, suggesting Rauner’s eye is more on the general election than on Tuesday’s vote.

But Rauner denied that: “We believe we’ll win, but we’re not taking anything for granted.”

In Naperville, Brady and Dillard both marched in that western suburb’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, with each voicing optimism that they somehow could overcome Rauner’s big lead generated by months of television commercials.

“Our base is there,” said Brady, who with wife Nancy later zigzagged along the sun-soaked route near Naperville North High School, shaking hands with parade goers pushing baby strollers and standing on the curb with their dogs.

“Our voters are going to turn out. There’s no question, Bruce Rauner has bought a lot of name identification, but his base isn’t very deep,” Brady told the Sun-Times. “We just need to get our voters out on Election Day, and we’ll win.”

Dillard, who on the strength of endorsements from labor unions and anti-abortion and guns-rights groups, has surged into second place in the polls and said he thinks he can catch Rauner.

“It’s going to take a lot of grassroots activity. We have massive phone-banking operations going on. I’m going to literally shake thousands of hands over the next few days, and we continue to have our television and radio ads running,” Dillard told the Sun-Times before the Naperville parade.

Dillard plans Sunday to launch a two-day statewide fly-around with former Gov. Jim Edgar, for whom Dillard was chief of staff and who is now appearing in a television commercial touting his former aide’s experience.

But Rauner, in an interview with the Sun-Times, dismissed the value of Edgar on Dillard’s campaign.

“I respect Gov. Edgar. I think he’s a good person,” Rauner said. “But this election is about the future, not the past.”

Rutherford, inexplicably, pulled a disappearing act Saturday, with a campaign aide sending out a text message early in the day saying the treasurer “is not sharing his weekend schedule with the media.” There was no follow-up explanation of that strategy.

The only public missive coming forth from the Rutherford campaign was a morning tweet from the treasurer, saying he had “multiple” conference calls planned with “supporters and coordinators” and “signs going up, energy high.”

Rutherford, who in one poll last fall was the only Republican to finish ahead of Quinn and had more than $1 million in his campaign fund, has never recovered his footing since getting hit last month with a sexual harassment lawsuit from a former male staffer in the treasurer’s office. Rutherford has denied wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, in the Senate race, Oberweis visited supporters in Naperville Saturday, attended a Kiwanis pancake breakfast in Aurora and planned to march in a St. Patrick’s Day parade in St. Charles. Wedged in between those events was a trip to the airport to pick up his wife.

His rival, Doug Truax, has spent the week hammering Oberweis for being gone for several days in Florida to be with his wife to celebrate her birthday, while the Chicago area dug out from yet another snowstorm early in the week and the primary stood just days away.

Oberweis struck back at Truax Saturday for investing so much focus on the Florida trip rather than on Obamacare, the crisis in Ukraine or holes in the long tenure of Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

“It seems to me Mr. Truax has his priorities all wrong if he’s worried about my wife’s birthday or my commitment,” Oberweis said in a telephone interview Saturday with the Sun-Times. “How can anybody argue I’ve not been 100-percent committed to this when I’ve been involved for eight or 10 years? It’s not like I lost an election and ran away and hid.”

Oberweis has lost five elections in 12 years, striking out in earlier bids for U.S. Senate, governor and congressman – twice.

“I think he’s a good individual, a good person,” Oberweis said of Truax. “But I think he’s just inexperienced and is kind of flailing around to find something as an issue because he knows he’s trailing in the polls.”

Truax also marched in Saturday’s Naperville parade and found Oberweis’ oddly-timed Florida trip resonated with voters along the parade route.

“When I was on that parade route, I had all kinds of people saying. ‘I can’t believe he went to Florida,’ and ‘You should be handing out mai tais,’” Truax said, alluding to the favorite, beachside drink.

Told of Oberweis’ contention that the Florida focus signifies misplaced priorities, Truax counterpunched Oberweis for his refusal to debate, ridiculing the idea that the state senator from Sugar Grove now thinks there should be discussion in the race about Obamacare or the Ukraine.

“Those are all great debate topics. But he didn’t want to debate. You can’t have it all ways. I’ve had 150 interviews since I’ve been doing this, and I’ve been answering all those issues. I’m on record all over the place,” Truax said.

“He ducked out on all the debates, and now he’s in a bad spot. Now, he’s stuck with this Florida thing, and he’s trying to change the topic,” Truax continued. “I don’t think people will let him.”

Contributing: LeeAnn Shelton