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Sparks fly in heated GOP gubernatorial debate

Four Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidates clashed in out-for-blood combat during a live televised debate Wednesday night, interrogating one another, hurling insults and even threatening legal action. With no format to abide by in the WGN-Channel 9/Tribune event, candidates — who are clearly getting under each other’s skin at this point in the campaign — took every inch to stick it to one another. The most intense swiping came when state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, and state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, clashed over the state’s finances. “That’s why your business is bankrupt,” Dillard snarled at Brady, whose family is in real estate. A visibly peeved Brady threatened to file a lawsuit, saying that wasn’t true, and began waving his finger at his rival. “Be careful of your words here, Senator Dillard,” Brady warned. The two talked over one another for a time, and Dillard at one point put his hand up to stop Brady from interrupting him. A moderator asked Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford to join in and he declined. “I just wish I had the concession for the peanuts for this circus,” Rutherford said. Brady beat Dillard for the GOP nomination in 2010 by 193 votes and now the two are battling for second place with polls showing Rauner having a 25-point lead. Perhaps the most cutting remark of the night came from Dillard, who is attempting to surge in the last two weeks before the March 18 primary, with the help of public-sector union money and endorsements. “If Mr. Rauner is our nominee . . . we are nominating someone who buys influence in all parts of his life. Putting Bruce in charge of Springfield is sort of like putting a rat in charge of the cheese,” Dillard said. Rauner, a Winnetka venture capitalist, took his shots, too. When he was given a chance to question any candidate, he turned to Dillard. “Why are you running in the Republican primary? I think you should be running in the Democratic primary,” Rauner needled, noting that Dillard has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in public-sector union money. Rauner has long maintained that if a governor takes public union money it is not only a conflict of interest but amounts to a “bribe.” Dillard said one-third of union members are Republican primary voters, then he blasted back at Rauner, asking him how it wasn’t a conflict of interest for one of Rauner’s companies to be paying Stuart Levine at the same time that Levine voted to double that company’s pension business — with the Teachers Retirement System. “Isn’t it a conflict of interest to take $50 million from the Teachers Retirement System,” when Levine was on the board, Dillard queried. Brady played up his vote supporting pension reform but he too likened Dillard to a Democrat for his “no” vote on the matter. “To walk away from $175 to $180 billion [in potential savings], I frankly would say for your own political interest, Kirk Dillard. Last night I said Bruce Rauner was starting to act like Rod Blagojevich; Kirk Dillard is starting to act like Pat Quinn,” Brady said. “Pat Quinn sold out to the unions in the last election. We need a governor who’s willing to stand up for what’s right and not use votes like that or issues like that for political gain.” Rauner spoke about attack ads on TV that are accusing his company of giving seniors inadequate care, leading to some deaths. “My heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones. It’s always a tragedy, whether it’s at a nursing home or somewhere else,” Rauner said. He added though that it was “an outrageous political attack, taking advantage of suffering of a family to score political points. It’s disgusting and outrageous. . . . We would never tolerate inadequate care.” Rutherford didn’t escape the hot seat. He was asked about a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him and the subsequent taxpayer-funded probe he ordered — then withheld from public viewing.“There were allegations made six weeks before the election. They are false,” he said. Rutherford said he ordered the probe immediately after hearing the allegations but after a federal lawsuit, he took an attorney’s advice not to release the findings — even though he says he believes they would clear him.“I cannot tell you how much I wish that could happen,” Rutherford said. “I think you’re right — that would clear things up.” At the close of debate, one of the moderators asked the four candidates to pose for a group “selfie.” After tearing into one another for 60 minutes, they agreed — then smiled wide for the camera.