Rutherford: 'Zero chance that I am dropping out'
MONTICELLO — Repeatedly badgered with questions about alleged ethical and sexual improprieties, State Treasurer Dan Rutherford said Wednesday the charges are "totally false," he will not drop out of the Republican race for governor and insisted he can still win election March 18.
But veteran University of Illinois political scientist Kent Redfield said it's virtually impossible for Rutherford to overcome the allegations.
"I just don't see it. I don't see there is enough time," Redfield said. "I suppose you could have a big revelation where it turns out that this is all a setup job being funded by some dark conspiracy; you could change the dynamic, I suppose. But if it's just Rutherford trying to get out in front of the charges and trying to mitigate them between now and Election Day, I don't see how you can change the dynamic in that short a time."
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Rutherford, though, was insistent that he isn't giving up.
"There is zero chance that I am dropping out of this race for governor. There is zero chance," the Chenoa Republican said at the Red Wheel Restaurant in Monticello. A sparse crowd was at a campaign event where Rutherford distributed yard signs and other campaign paraphernalia. Earlier he did the same at Minneci's in Champaign.
Rutherford was asked how he could win the four-way Republican race for governor after Edmund Michalowski, a former employee, charged in a federal lawsuit that Rutherford forced him to do political work on state time and that the treasurer also had grabbed at his crotch one night.
"Three weeks ago we were riding high," he said. "But we've got the most money in the bank compared to anyone else other than Mister (Bruce) Rauner (the frontrunner in the GOP race). We've got the best field organization out there. There was no question that it was between Mister Rauner and I. In Illinois politics five weeks is an eternity. In one week the politics winds of fate can change."
The most recent campaign disclosure reports, now more than a month old, showed Rutherford had $1.37 million on hand while Rauner had about $421,000. But Rauner had raised more than $4.1 million in the previous three months to Rutherford's $392,000.
Redfield, the UI political scientist, said the unsubstantiated charges against Rutherford are enough to damage his campaign.
"He is going to lose votes from people who, whether they believe the allegations are true or not, the fact that the issue has been raised that he might be gay, that's going to cost him votes, Clearly there are people who won't vote for a candidate they think is gay," Redfield said. "And he's going to lose votes from people who believe the allegation. And he loses votes from people who maybe think that Rutherford may be the best governor but suddenly he becomes risky."
Rutherford, however, said he has the money to run a strong campaign down the stretch.
"I don't have millions and millions and millions of dollars, but I have enough money to be able to sustain. The reason I have enough money is because I have been very frugal in our spending. Our campaign committee, we double-occupy when we travel in the campaign," Rutherford said, apparently in reference to a Chicago Tribune story Wednesday that reported that Rutherford repeatedly shared a hotel room with his executive assistant, Joshua Lanning. "We don't buy ink pens. We get them from the Holiday Inn Express or the Red Roof Inn when we overnight there. I know that sounds nickel and dime but that's how we're able to have the money today."
Rutherford, who at one time had served in the state Senate and represented areas including Champaign, Ford and Iroquois counties, said he hadn't faced such accusations in previous election campaigns.
"This is a whole different league of political spin. There's a big difference when you run for governor. You're running for the top spot and there are a lot of folks out there who want to keep me from becoming the nominee and they want to keep me from becoming governor," Rutherford said.
Rutherford said he had been prepared for "a bloodbath" in the election campaign.
"The reason I want to do this is No. 1, I don't have to. I have a good life. I don't have to do this," he said. "The other is that I have been around as a citizen legislator enough to know what needs to get done. I've been a private sector business guy (a former executive with ServiceMaster Company) and I know the skill set it will take to turn Illinois around.
"In light of all of this stuff now probably begs the question even more, why would do want to do this? It's because I don't tolerate this. This approach in Illinois politics stinks. That is why I am even more adamant. I am not getting out of this race. If I got out of this race the bad guys win."
He said that besides Rauner, only he has enough money to run radio and television commercial in the Chicago area before the election.
"And our field organization, our people, are standing strong. We're going to be vindicated in this thing," Rutherford said.