In what could be the biggest shake-up in the GOP gubernatorial primary yet, a new group poised to launch attack ads against candidate Bruce Rauner has formally filed papers to begin its work.
It’s headed by a former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., and is poised to launch anti-Rauner ads, combating TV spots by Rauner, which have already immersed the airwaves.
The Republican Fund for Progress and Jobs filed its statement of organization Thursday afternoon, and former Schock chief of staff Steven Shearer signed on as committee chair and treasurer.
Sources with knowledge of the effort say the goal is to “educate” voters on Rauner, including through TV ads. They are keeping their cards close to the vest on the timing and amount of money they’re expecting to spend but the Sun-Times previously reported the effort will be “intense.” It includes some involvement by unions that abhor Rauner, who has waged war on “union bosses.”
Sources say the ads would not advocate for a specific opponent to Rauner but steer voters to any of his three opponents — state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, and Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford.
Expect more discussion to counter Rauner’s contention that he’s an “outsider” including more talk of Rauner’s former ties to imprisoned insider Stuart Levine — a central figure in the Rod Blagojevich investigation.
There’s bad blood between Rauner and Schock’s campaign that goes back to last year. Schock, of Peoria, who once explored a run for governor, faced a series of attack ads, which Downstate Republicans were convinced came from Rauner.
Last year, Rauner denied it.
“That’s all false rumors. I like Aaron, I supported Aaron for Congress in the past,” Rauner told the Chicago Sun-Times at the time.
Though he’s in a four-way GOP primary race, Rauner has owned the airtime in the contest where his competitors have struggled to raise campaign cash. Rauner has pumped $1.2 million into his own campaign, lifting fund-raising caps. His fund-raising pace is frenzied, having reported bringing in $4 million in the fourth quarter of last year, including tapping some of the wealthiest Republican donors in the state. Rauner has spent more than $2 million on advertising, including a series of TV ads where he promises to “shake up Springfield.”
The possibility of a third party pouring money into anti-Rauner ads could prove to be the biggest threat Rauner has faced.
For his part, Rauner is using news of an anti-committee to ask his coffers for more money with a now oft-used mantra that it’s him against “national Democrats and government union bosses.”
On Friday, his campaign said Rauner was prepared for battle.
“The government labor union bosses and other Pat Quinn allies have made it clear they intend to fund efforts to try to hijack the Republican primary,” said spokesman Mike Schrimpf.
“They know Bruce is the only real threat to their stranglehold on Springfield. Bruce is fully prepared to defeat them and transform state government for the good of taxpayers, workers, and schoolchildren.”