SPRINGFIELD – A second Republican contender for Illinois governor is taking his message to television next week, less than two months before a four-way GOP primary to challenge Gov. Pat Quinn.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford said his campaign will air its first television ads to correspond with the start of the Sochi Winter Olympics. That follows months in which Winnetka billionaire Bruce Rauner has dominated many TV markets with ads, raising his name recognition but also making him the target of attacks by his three opponents.
Rutherford, of Chenoa, would not say how much he is spending on the ads, but that they would run statewide and his campaign hopes to sustain them through the March 18 primary. He said the highest percentage of the ads will run in higher population centers.
“We’ve got the resources to come in when the time is necessary,” Rutherford told The Associated Press.
The other two candidates seeking the GOP nomination, State Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, have not run TV ads.
Political and media experts said TV presence is important in a primary as voters try to differentiate between candidates of the same party, but that having the right message is just as important.
Chris Mooney, director of University of Illinois’ Institute for Government and Public Affairs, noted that most people get their political news through television.
“What’s needed for Rutherford to break through is a very powerful message,” Mooney said. “It has to be distinguishing himself from Rauner in some clear way.”
Pete Giangreco, a Democratic campaign strategist, said a candidate would need to match the volume of the Rauner ads to make the ad buy worthwhile.
“You can’t bring a knife to a gun fight,” Giangreco said. “If he’s not up to substantial levels where Rauner is, he’s not going to get traction.”
At the same time, Giangreco notes that Rauner has spent millions on ads and “hasn’t put this race away yet. I think this thing’s wide open. “
The Rutherford campaign ended 2013 with $1.37 million. Rauner raised $4 million in the final quarter of 2013 and spent much of that money on ads.
Rutherford said his TV campaign will include positive ads that focus on who he is and his vision for Illinois.
Rauner, meanwhile, called on his rivals Monday to denounce efforts by organized labor – which typically supports Democrats – to launch attack ads against him. Campaign manager Chip Englander said the candidates’ silence on the issue is an indication they support efforts by the unions to “hijack” the GOP primary.
Several union officials say Rauner is more anti-labor than his rivals, and that they plan to launch a coordinated campaign against him.
Brady replied that he had no connection to the union efforts. He said many union members are Republicans who want to nominate the candidate with the best chance of defeating Quinn.
Dillard campaign manager Glenn Hodas contends it’s Rauner trying to hijack the election. He noted the venture capitalist’s collaboration and friendship with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, calling him “a Democrat in sheep’s clothing.”
Associated Press reporter Sara Burnett in Chicago contributed.