Sen. Kirk, Ray LaHood part company on Rauner

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Bruce Rauner’s gubernatorial primary win sent a strong message about the future of the Illinois GOP, the state’s ranking Republican said Wednesday. 

“With Rauner’s victory, it showed that a pro-choice Republican can be nominated by the party and go on to win,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who also supports abortion rights. “If you are a social moderate and a fiscal conservative, you’re likely to win in Illinois.” 

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Please enable Javascript to watch this videoBut Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was less impressed with Rauner, saying he disapproved of how the fellow Republican ran his campaign. 

“I don’t believe in campaigns that trash other candidates,” LaHood told the Sun-Times. 

In a separate interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday, Kirk lauded Rauner and seemed to channel another tenet of Rauner’s campaign — a focus on unions. Kirk said he “absolutely” would back significant reforms when it came to unions but when pressed about whether that included pension reform, he backed off.

“I would say that the national significance of this race for governor is that the toxic left … would do anything to make sure that Illinois stays safely in the dull, gray, union-controlled, dumb economy that we have,” he said.  

Kirk singled out the Service Employees International Union, calling the group “particularly corrupt.”

“I would particularly say that there’s been one union that’s run the state of Illinois called the SEIU, a particularly corrupt union,” Kirk said. “The SEIU — it’s no mistake that Rod Blagojevich wanted to leave his job as governor and go work for them. It’s because he saw the SEIU as more powerful than the state of Illinois.”

Kirk’s strongly-worded remarks seemed to take the SEIU Local 73 off guard.

“Obviously, we have different perspectives on several issues, and I’m very sorry to hear the senator thinks of us that way,” said Adam Rosen, spokesman for SEIU Local 73, public sector local in Illinois and Northwest Indiana. “We have very good relationships with other politicians, both on a state level and a national level, including Sen.  [Dick] Durbin. It’s very disappointing he would say such things about our organization.”

SEIU has been a friend to Democrats in Illinois. An analysis of union donations by the Sun-Times shows that Rauner’s November adversary —Gov. Pat Quinn — was SEIU’s top beneficiary. SEIU gave Quinn more than $4 million since 2000. 

Kirk conceded that state Sen. Kirk Dillard’s strong showing in the race against Rauner was a testament to union strength in Illinois.

“It says that they are stronger than I expected,” he said. “The [Dillard] surge right at the end was something I did not expect.”

Separately on Wednesday, LaHood unloaded on Rauner. 

“I saw the literature that the Rauner campaign sent out about Rutherford and Brady and Dillard and made them look like, you know, people that they aren’t,” he said. “Disparaging their public service. For what? For your own public gain. I don’t believe in that.”

On Tuesday, Rauner defeated state Senators Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, and Bill Brady, R-Bloomington as well as Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford. LaHood, who noted he is now a “private citizen” does consulting work for DLA Piper, had supported Rutherford. Rutherford arguably had the strongest campaign outside of Rauner’s before allegations of sexual harassment and political intimidation were lodged against him.

On Wednesday, LaHood attended a fund-raiser for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, with whom he was close when LaHood worked in Congress. Rauner’s wife, Diana, was also there. LaHood, who is from Peoria, lamented the direction that the GOP primary took, laying the blame for Rutherford’s political demise to behind-the-scenes meddling by Rauner. 

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