- Associated Press - Monday, March 17, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - The contenders for Illinois governor crisscrossed the state Monday on the final day of campaigning before the primary elections, with a wealthy venture capitalist trying to fend off three longtime Republican lawmakers to advance to a likely fall matchup with Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

The choice on Tuesday will shape a November ballot for what could be Republicans’ best chance to take back the governor’s office after more than a decade in Democratic control. Illinois’ primary also will set up races for Congress, a U.S. Senate seat, the state Legislature, statewide constitutional officers and numerous local offices.

Most gubernatorial candidates focused their final campaigning on Quinn, with three of the four Republicans and one Democratic primary challenger touring the state by plane, bus and car.

“We are going to sweep Pat Quinn into the dustbin of history in Illinois,” Bruce Rauner, the Republican venture capitalist, told supporters at a cafe in the northern Illinois community of Rockford before flying downstate. “We’re going to get him out of office.”

Rauner, who is seeking office for the first time, has led in polls and fundraising over state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford in a race that has been heavily focused on unions and the state’s financial problems. Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, is widely expected to win over his lesser-known challenger, activist Tio Hardiman.

Still, Hardiman, Dillard and Brady - who lost the 2010 governor’s race to Quinn - set out statewide with final pitches.

“If we do what we did last time, we’ll win this primary and go on to beat Pat Quinn,” said Bloomington Republican Brady, whose scheduled stops included Springfield, Peoria and Chicago.

Dillard, traveled Illinois with his onetime boss, former Gov. Jim Edgar. Dillard was Edgar’s chief of staff.

Dillard, of Hinsdale, focused on criticizing Quinn’s leadership and Rauner’s friendship with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat. Unions have factored into GOP primary, with labor running anti-Rauner ads on television and several of the state’s biggest unions backing Dillard.

“I’m tested and I’m prepared,” he said between stops in central and southern Illinois. “I’m the only candidate that can send Pat Quinn packing in November.”

Meanwhile, Rutherford, who has recently avoided the spotlight, didn’t have a public schedule. He’s said the last few weeks of his campaign have been “pretty rough” since a former employee filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and political coercion. Rutherford of Chenoa denies the allegations and has called them politically motivated.

He released a short statement Monday calling himself a “reasonable Republican.” There was no mention of his opponents.

“As governor, I will do everything I can to create jobs and encourage business growth,” the statement said.

Turnout is typically low in primaries and experts say there isn’t much in the final hours that can sway voters, aside from a late-breaking scandal or massive get-out-the-vote efforts. Though others cautioned against relying heavily on primary polls.

“It’s down to ground game,” said Doug O’Brien, who was chief aide to Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk while he was an Illinois congressman. “Ground game might be able to tighten the margin a little bit.”

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