DIXON – Republican governor hopeful Dan Rutherford tried to make the case in Dixon on Wednesday that he is the candidate best positioned to beat Democrats next year.
His main argument is that he is the only one of the four GOP candidates who has won a statewide race. He was elected state treasurer in 2010.
He is no stranger to Dixon, which he has visited a number of times. Wednesday, he held a meet-and-greet in the upstairs dining room at Mama Cimino’s. He was in Rock Falls earlier in the day.
With campaign aides in tow, Rutherford worked the room, shaking everyone’s hand – about 25 people in all. He remembered some names.
During his speech, he greeted every latecomer walking in. And when Lee County Board member Marvin Williams left the room, the treasurer jokingly asked, “Did I say something to make you mad, Marvin?”
Smiling, Williams returned a moment later.
In introducing Rutherford, Greg Witzleb, chairman of the Lee County Republican Central Committee, praised him as someone who reaches out to different communities.
“He believes that the Republican Party should include everyone. He has spoken to every ethnic group in Illinois,” said Witzleb, a Lee County Board member. “You can be a real conservative, but be able to work with people who don’t agree with you.”
That was a Rutherford theme. He promised to work with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel – not a GOP favorite – to reduce crime on the South Side, which, Rutherford argued, hurts the state’s reputation.
He noted that he was a regular attendee of events in religious communities ranging from Hindu to Greek Orthodox.
In 2010, he got 22 percent of the vote in Chicago. A Republican needs 20 percent in Chicago to win a statewide race, he said.
Also, he noted that he had received 66,000 more votes than Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, did in his victorious campaign the same year.
As for the pension crisis, Rutherford said he hoped the governor and Legislature solve it before the new governor takes office in January 2015. If not, he said, he will seek a compromise.
On cuts to spending, he said he would means-test health care benefits for retired state employees. In other words, those who make more money would get fewer, if any, benefits.
He criticized the income tax increase in 2011. It was meant to eliminate billions in unpaid bills, a backlog that has only grown since then.
“The tax didn’t fix anything,” Rutherford said.
In a later interview, he said he wants to repeal the tax hike but that he would put “more revenue” on the table as part of a broader deal to cut state spending.
To the audience, he emphasized his experience as a budget-cutter in the treasurer’s office – closing six field offices, reducing the car fleet by half, and getting rid of 72 percent of the office’s cellphones.
He said he even kept the letterhead with his predecessor’s name, which was blacked out.
“That’s small,” he said, “but that’s the way to run a business.”
In the March primary, Rutherford expects to face three other announced candidates: state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard and venture capitalist Bruce Rauner – or as Rutherford put it, “two friends and a rich guy from Chicago.”
Candidates for the Democratic nomination are Gov. Quinn and Bill Daley, who is President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff. Neither has campaigned locally.