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Schock’s departure in race for governor clears path for Rauner

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Updated: May 29, 2013 8:05AM

U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock’s departure from the cadre of GOP contenders for the Illinois governor’s race has those remaining sizing each other up and ready to dress each other down.

And if you ask them to define their opponents, this is essentially how they boil it down: rich guy vs. career politicians.

The rich guy is venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, a self-made millionaire who has already stockpiled more than $1.2 million, even as he’s on a “listening tour” of the state before making a formal announcement. Other contenders are already accusing him of trying to buy the governor’s seat and predicting he’ll fall the way of others who’ve historically tried doing that in Illinois — flat on his face.

The so-called career politicians?

That’s how Rauner depicts the likes of state Senators Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady as well as state Treasurer Dan Rutherford — all of whom told the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday they remain serious about a gubernatorial run. Rauner lumps them together as being part of the problem in a state with plenty of fiscal troubles.

Finally, there’s WLS Radio Talk show host Dan Proft, who isn’t appropriately tossed in with either side. Proft, a conservative, has a $400,000 balance in his campaign fund — more than Dillard or Brady.

Proft says he’s the fresh face who isn’t apologetic of his conservative leanings. He can’t be pinned as a Springfield creature who is part of the financial mess in which the state finds itself.

“The people who say they know they know how to work with Mike Madigan are the people who’ve been getting their brains beat in by Mike Madigan for the last two decades,” says Proft.

Still, on its face, Schock’s departure most easily clears a path for Rauner.

When it comes to fund-raising, accomplishment and a fresh face for a statewide contest, Schock posed the biggest threat to Rauner. Though Rauner denies it, Downstate Republicans are convinced it was Rauner who was behind a series of recent scathing attacks questioning Schock’s true Republican commitment.

Club for Growth, the group behind the ads, is also the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from Rauner.

“That’s all false rumors. I like Aaron, I supported Aaron for Congress in the past,” Rauner told the Chicago Sun-Times. Rauner says others may badmouth him “because I’m a leader in the clubhouse — I’ve been raising more money than any other candidate. Frankly, I scare politicians in both parties.”

When asked how he would contend with the likes of the Michael Madigan political force, Rauner says simply, but confidently: “I have a plan.” And he’ll only reveal that after he announces? “Indeed.”

“If I run, I’m going to be out to transform our state government,” he says.

Fat chance, say his potential competitors.

“You haven’t found many successful candidates who have been able to buy their way to victory,” says state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington). “It’s a tough state, but voters count on you to earn it, not buy it.”

Brady himself showed an acumen for raising money, having raised $20 million in the 2010 gubernatorial race to Gov. Pat Quinn. Brady lost by just 16,000 votes. Getting that close, he says, has supporters urging him to “finish the job.”

Then again, he was in a near-tie in the primary with Dillard.

“Bill won by 193 votes,” says Dillard. But Dillard notes there were five other candidates in 2010 who were from DuPage County or the north suburbs with whom he split the vote. “If any of the other five don’t run, I win handily.”

He says he’s just the right combination of a moderate suburban Republican with Downstate family ties. He’s lagging when it comes to fundraising but says two recent hires on his campaign team will put him in the running.

“You can spend all the money in the world, but if you’re not someone who Republican primary voters believe is a Republican, you will not be electable either in the primary or the general election,” says Dillard.

Rauner has an answer to any digs about his millionaire status.

“I will never apologize for my business success, I’m darn proud of it,” he said. “It’s the backbone of America. It’s created our prosperity, I’m a leader of it and I’m darn proud of it.”

Rutherford puts up a practical reason for his own viability.

“I’m the only person that’s looking to run statewide for governor that’s actually won statewide,” Rutherford says. Rutherford easily points to specific numbers from 2010, including that he got 22 percent of the vote in the City of Chicago.

“It’s pretty evident that I’m able to attract voters from all over Illinois,” says Rutherford. “And not just Republicans.”

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