CHICAGO — — The four Republicans seeking the governors' office were set to face off in another televised debate Thursday, as two candidates lagging behind in fundraising and polls vowed to make up ground just weeks ahead of the primary election.
State Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady have acknowledged they've got far less money than businessman Bruce Rauner and Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford, but they say they're not worried and are counting on a final surge into the March 18 primary. Early voting starts Monday.
Dillard picked up an endorsement Wednesday from the Illinois Retired Teachers Association, which he said would help build momentum.
"Polling is not a true, accurate measure," said Dillard of Hinsdale. "I go after votes in non-traditional areas. It's why I'm the electable candidate."
However, Brady has called it a two-man race between him and Rauner, who has raised millions more than the other candidates through his contacts and personal wealth. Brady of Bloomington said his own internal polling shows him ahead of those who are already in public office. Brady was the GOP nominee in 2010.
Rauner, who portrays himself as an outsider who'll go up against "government union bosses," has dominated the airwaves with advertisements. That's made him the target of union attack ads and other candidates. He even termed one debate a "beat up Brucey" event. However, Rauner has said that just shows his message is resonating.
Still, his fundraising efforts — including millions he's put into his own campaign — have recently come into question.
The Illinois AFL-CIO this week asked a state investigator to prohibit Rauner from contributing to his own campaign and review about $5 million he's contributed for violations of Illinois' procurement code. Rauner, a venture capitalist from Winnetka, was chairman of GTCR, which invests state pension-system money. The procurement code prohibits businesses doing work for the state from donating to the campaign of the officeholder in charge of the contracts.
Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said Thursday that the effort was brought by allies of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and was "beyond the point of desperation."
Meanwhile, Rutherford of Chenoa has also raised more money than Dillard and Brady. However, he's spent recent weeks defending himself on the campaign trail after a former employee filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and being forced to do campaign work while on state time. Rutherford has denied any wrongdoing.
Thursday's debate was to be hosted by the League of Women Voters of Illinois, WLS-TV and Univision.
Quinn, who is seeking re-election, faces primary challenger Tio Hardiman, an activist. Quinn's campaign has said the Chicago Democrat won't participate in any debates ahead of the primary.