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Kane County at the center of GOP race for governor

Gubernatorial candidate Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, greets contributors Saturday at the Vaughan Athletic Center in Aurora.
Gubernatorial candidate Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, greets contributors Saturday at the Vaughan Athletic Center in Aurora.

In about eight months, Kane County voters will help select the two men who will face off for the chance to be Illinois’ next governor.

But the four men who are seeking the nod to run under the Republican Party’s banner aren’t waiting until next spring to introduce themselves to potential primary election voters in Kane County.

Since late spring, Republican gubernatorial hopefuls have dropped into the county numerous times.

Three candidates, in particular – State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, Sen. Kirk Dillard and financier businessman Bruce Rauner – have made Kane County events a regular stop on their treks across the state.

Sen. Bill Brady, who ran as the Republican nominee for governor in 2010, also has made stops in Kane County.

The visits have included appearances at festivals and various photo opportunities.

But for the most part, the candidates have centered their Kane County visits on local Republican Party events, or events attended or hosted by local Republican Party officials.

On Saturday, for instance, Rutherford, Dillard and Rauner attended Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen’s annual Porky Picnic fundraiser in Aurora, each taking a turn addressing the crowd – estimated to number about 700 – and schmoozing those in attendance.

Earlier this month, all four men appeared at a fundraiser dinner in Elburn hosted by the Western Kane County Republican Organization.

Political observers and local insiders say Kane County voters should expect to see the candidates even more in coming months as the primary election draws nearer.

Barb Wojnicki, a Kane County Board member who serves as chairman of the Kane County GOP organization, said she thinks the candidates all recognize that Kane County voters could prove pivotal in a potentially close primary election next spring.

“We’re a strong Republican voting bloc,” Wojnicki said. “And especially in the center of the county.”

She said the candidates can see that the county’s GOP organization is populated by “hardworking, dedicated committeemen” who could help any of the candidates grab the nomination.

Chris Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield affiliated with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs in Springfield, said Kane County’s appeal for the candidates is simple – the county offers a relatively large number of both Republican voters and donors.

“In general, if you’re a Republican running for governor, where else are you going to go?” Mooney said.

In 2010, for example, election records revealed more than 37,000 Republican voters in Kane County and the city of Aurora cast ballots for governor in the primary election.

That amounted to almost 5 percent of the total number of voters statewide in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary.

Mooney said the repeated visits by the candidates to Kane County indicate that the race likely will be very close.

Mooney said downstate counties also are heavily populated with Republicans, as illustrated by Brady’s success in the 2010 primary.

But Mooney noted that in the last primary, three strong Chicago-area candidates split the vote in Kane, DuPage, Will and Lake counties, allowing Brady to eke out the win.

Mooney noted that, among the current crop of Republican contenders, only one – Dillard – hails from the collar counties. Rauner is from Cook County, while Rutherford and Brady are both from McLean County.

“Downstate has a lot of Republicans, but you have to drive all over hell gone and back to find them,”  Mooney said. “If you want to find Republicans, it’s just easier to visit the collar counties.”

Early polling in the race has indicated a close contest.

Wojnicki said local Republicans tend to favor Dillard, Rutherford and Rauner.

She said the repeated appearances by those three candidates appear to have moved the needle in their favor locally.

“It’s absolutely important to get in here,” Wojnicki said. “People need to meet their candidates and get a good feel for their platform and issues.” 

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