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Miller: Rauner surviving bad press – so far

Published: Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 11:08 p.m. CDT

A solid week of horribly negative media coverage of Bruce Rauner was apparently outweighed by lots and lots of TV ads because his numbers are still rising.

A new Capitol Fax/We Ask America poll found that Rauner’s lead increased in the Republican gubernatorial primary since late November.

The poll of 1,139 likely Republican primary voters taken Jan. 14 found Rauner getting 34 percent of the vote, with state Sen. Bill Brady at 17 percent, Treasurer Dan Rutherford at 15 percent and state Sen. Kirk Dillard bringing up the rear at 9 percent.

A We Ask America poll taken Nov. 26 after Rauner launched his holiday season TV ad blitz showed Rauner leading with 26 percent, to Brady’s 18 percent, Rutherford’s 17 percent and Dillard’s 10 percent. Those numbers confirmed a Public Policy Polling survey taken only days before, which had Rauner leading with 24 percent.

So, essentially, the rest of the pack hasn’t moved at all, while Rauner has added eight points to his lead. Last week’s poll had a margin of error of plus-minus 2.9 percent.

“Buoyed by a constant stream of quality TV ads, Mr. Rauner continues to gain ground,” We Ask America pollster Greg Durham said. “For now, it does not appear the negative press he’s recently received has resulted in producing any significant speed bumps. This race is far from settled, but the Rauner camp must feel like their plan is working.”

Twin scandals have buffeted Rauner’s campaign since the holiday season ended. He’s been hammered extensively for a December comment that surfaced in early January of Rauner demanding that the minimum wage be cut by a dollar an hour. Last week, the media focused on Rauner’s successful effort to clout his suburban daughter into a Chicago public school, followed by a $250,000 contribution to that school.

But “earned media” attacks don’t work like they used to, particularly in GOP primaries where a hardcore strand of voters tends to discount the “mainstream media.”

Most importantly, though, is that none of Rauner’s opponents have yet to run a single TV ad. Paid media, and in particular TV, moves numbers. Period. End of story. And Rauner has had the TV all to himself.

Rauner’s massive TV spending is having a profound impact. Only 25 percent of GOP primary voters say they’re undecided. Rauner leads in almost every geographic region in the state, with his biggest numbers racked up in the vote-rich collar counties. There, Rauner scores a whopping 44 percent.

He’s also way ahead in suburban Cook County, with 37 percent. And he has 27 percent downstate, which puts him eight points ahead of both Brady and Rutherford. Rutherford leads in Chicago, according to the poll, but only by three points.

Rutherford reported raising about $400,000 in the fourth quarter last year and had just under $1.4 million in his campaign bank account.

When he puts that money on TV, Rutherford could take advantage of any effect that labor unions will have on the primary. If the upcoming multimillion dollar labor union-financed TV advertising blitz manages to disqualify Rauner in GOP voters’ minds, then Rutherford’s ads could convince those voters to head his way.

Right now, though, Republican primary voters are divided on whom they would choose if Rauner is taken out of the equation.

We asked Rauner supporters: “If information emerged that would cause you to withdraw your support for Bruce Rauner, for whom would you vote?”

According to the poll, 22 percent of former Rauner backers would choose Rutherford, 20 percent picked Brady and 16 percent backed Dillard. But 42 percent remained undecided.

Brady has raised just about zero cash in the past six months, and Dillard’s campaign is barely staying afloat. So the poll and common sense indicate Rutherford could be the most likely candidate to take advantage when the union money starts pouring in against Rauner. But Rauner could then start attacking Rutherford, and anybody else who starts climbing in the polls. It’s gonna get complicated.

And that’s very important to remember. The poll shows what it shows on the day it was taken. Voters can express a preference based only on the information they currently have, and there will be a whole lot more info – mostly bad – coming very soon.

• Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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