CHICAGO (AP) — The four Republican candidates for Illinois governor made their cases for becoming the party’s nominee Thursday in their final televised primary debate — an evening that lacked the fiery exchanges of their previous meetings but was packed with more personal moments.
The debate between businessman Bruce Rauner, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford and state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard included them naming their biggest splurges to acknowledging at least two of them commit the Chicago sin of cheering for both the Cubs and the White Sox. The event, hosted by Chicago’s WTTW-TV, had the feeling of a race in its final stretch.
All four candidates said Illinois needs to change the way it funds education and that they oppose a proposal to change the state’s flat income tax to a graduated or “progressive” one, in which higher earners pay a bigger percentage of their income than lower earners.
Asked how they would work with the Democrat-controlled House and Senate, Dillard said he’s done it before, when he worked as chief of staff to former Gov. Jim Edgar and the state had a budget surplus.
“I’ve worked better than anyone with a Democrat Legislature and I’ve forced it to live within its means,” the Hinsdale legislator said.
Rauner, who has been leading in the polls and fundraising, said he would work closely with lawmakers to draft legislation and “push it hard.” He also said he wouldn’t be afraid to use executive orders — which Dillard noted the Legislature can reject — as well as his veto power and his control of the state’s checkbook.
“If you’ve got an agenda and a steel backbone you can get major transformation done in the governor’s office,” the venture capitalist from Winnetka said.
In some of the lighter discussion, each candidate shared their biggest “splurge.”
Brady said his was a red Porsche he bought for his wife — a comment that drew a “wow” from the notoriously frugal Rutherford before Brady, of Bloomington, admitted the car was 10 years old. Rutherford said his home in Chenoa, while Rauner said he splurged during a trip to Italy and bought his wife a nice dress. Dillard said it was a crystal chandelier that hangs in the entry of his family’s home, and that his wife still says they didn’t need.
Rutherford also spoke about his decision to stay in the race after a former employee filed a federal lawsuit accusing Rutherford of sexual harassment and forcing him to do campaign work on state time. Rutherford, who has denied the charges, noted “it’s been a pretty rough six weeks” on the campaign trail. But he said he hasn’t considered dropping out.
“I’ll tell you candidly … (it’s) part of standing up, being strong, looking you in the eye and looking the cameras in the eye about where I see Illinois wanting to be,” Rutherford said. “And that’s the kind of courage that I want to leave this race with.”
Asked about their hobbies, Rutherford said scuba diving, while Brady said golf and hunting. Rauner also said hunting, fishing and driving his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He and Dillard also said they both have tickets to both the Cubs and the Sox.
Each candidate also was asked who he would vote for if it wasn’t himself. Without elaborating, Dillard said Rutherford, while Rauner said Brady. Rutherford said his running mate, lawyer Steve Kim. Brady didn’t give an answer but said he’d gladly accept Rauner’s support.
Saturday is the final day of early voting, and the candidates have said they plan to be out in full force over the weekend. Some will appear at St. Patrick’s Day parades and others in statewide tours.
Also on Thursday, Dillard accepted the endorsement of the Illinois State Rifle Association, though the group said he wasn’t “any bigger supporter of gun rights” than Rutherford and Brady. The group singled out Rauner by alleging that he’d threaten gun rights, though it didn’t elaborate.
All the Republican candidates have said they support Illinois’ new concealed carry law, and Rauner repeated Thursday that he supports Second Amendment rights.
The Illinois State Rifle Association noted Rauner didn’t attend a recent lobby day in Springfield and his campaign hadn’t addressed issues important to Illinois firearm owners.
Tuesday’s primary winner will likely face Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who has kept a low profile on the campaign trail. He faces one lesser-known primary challenger, activist Tio Hardiman.
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