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Feb. 10: Republicans can’t avoid elephant in the room at radio debate

Treasurer Dan Rutherford left asks advice from Senator Bill Brady how get rid state board educatiiduring Northwest Suburban Republican gubernatorial

Treasurer Dan Rutherford, left, asks advice from Senator Bill Brady on how to get rid of the state board of education iduring the Northwest Suburban Republican gubernatorial debate in Hoffman Estates Monday evening 2-10-14. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 12, 2014 6:34AM

Before a packed house in Hoffman Estates on Monday, three GOP gubernatorial candidates heaped criticism on a fourth contender who was missing — and one candidate found himself defending a past plug for Barack Obama.

But the most dramatic moment of a 90-minute radio debate sponsored by WLS 890-AM was when state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale pointedly took on the elephant in the room – a fresh sexual harassment charge that had been leveled against opponent Dan Rutherford.

The candidates were allowed the opportunity to ask one another questions and Dillard began by saying he regretted having to ask this of the state treasurer.

“Are there any more allegations of sexual harassment coming at you from anyone else?” Dillard said.

The question seemed to hang in the air as the crowd numbering in the hundreds booed and grumbled.

Appearing taken aback by the question, Rutherford offered a long pause, staring right at Dillard at first.

“Sen. Dillard, I believe that was inappropriate,” Rutherford responded and the room erupted in applause.

Dillard later defended his question, saying he wanted to make sure that whoever wins the Republican nomination would not be derailed in a contest against Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn.

Dillard faced his own heat Monday night, however, when he was asked about an ad he recorded to benefit Barack Obama’s first presidential run in 2008.

The Republican state senator said he didn’t consider it an endorsement of the Democrat and that he had been actively supporting U.S. Sen. John McCain’s GOP candidacy. Dillard dismissed the spot as 15 words he thought was intended for the Internet only.

“Sen. Obama worked on some of the deepest issues we had, and he was successful in a bipartisan way,” Dillard said in the spot. “Republican legislators respected Sen. Obama.”

State Sen. Bill Brady, who is also in the four-way race for governor, chimed in, saying that even though Dillard did the spot for a Democrat, at least he hadn’t given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats. It was a reference to candidate Bruce Rauner, who was not in attendance.

Winnetka businessman Rauner, the presumed frontrunner in the race, has skipped several debates and his opponents have seized on the opportunities to point that out to audiences.

At one point in Monday’s debate, a member of the audience said she appreciated that the three attended and noted she only saw Rauner through his TV commercials.

Twitter: @natashakorecki


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