Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Why Ray LaHood Is Sticking with Dan Rutherford

The allegations against the GOP candidate haven’t swayed his friend and proponent, the longtime congressman and former Secretary of Transportation.

Treasurer Dan Rutherford and businessman Bruce Rauner, from left, participate in a 2014 Republican Gubernatorial Debate. Photo: Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune

In a telephone conversation this afternoon, Ray LaHood reconfirmed his commitment to embattled Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Rutherford.

LaHood, former Republican congressman from Peoria and former transportation secretary for his friend Barack Obama, told me last January that he’s endorsing Rutherford. “I think he’s going to win the primary,” he predicted back then.

Not many pundits and politicians seem to think that today. In the wake of the damaging allegations against Rutherford, the state treasurer from downstate Chenoa, I wondered whether LaHood was holding fast—or if he was going to transfer his allegiance to Kirk Dillard or Bill Brady. (See below for reasons why LaHood would not pick Bruce Rauner.)

I spoke to LaHood from his DC apartment where he was working—Lahood advises clients for DLA Piper—because, he laughed, five inches of snow had shut down the nation’s capital. 

LaHood told me that he talked to Rutherford, whom he described as a friend, today. “I wanted to see what to make of everything that’s been written,” he said, adding that Rutherford assured him that he has “gone through everything with a fine-tooth comb,” that “all will be proven false and his name will be cleared,” although, LaHood added, that “probably won’t happen until after the primary [on March 18].”

“He’s not going to drop out…. He’s the only Republican candidate running who has been elected statewide. He has the potential to be a great governor, LaHood said.”  He added that Rutherford didn’t sound defeated, but rather “like somebody who’s going to continue in the race and continue to work hard.” The two men “discussed the way these stories have developed. Dan has been around Illinois politics for a long time. He’s going to keep on fighting.”

“Anything you ask me to do, I’ll do it,” LaHood said he told Rutherford.

When I asked LaHood who he thinks might be behind the controversies that seem to be burying Rutherford, LaHood named Bruce Rauner—pointing to the fact that Rauner once gave legal work to an attorney who also represents the former employee who has accused Rutherford of sexual harassment.

LaHood added that he thinks Rauner was also at least some of the money behind TV and radio ads that “ran all over Central Illinois,” attacking Republican Congressman Aaron Schock—who, some thought, constituted the biggest threat to Rauner’s quest for the nomination—for not being conservative enough, targeting his vote for a measure that raised taxes on wealthier Americans to end the fiscal cliff. 

Schock, a prolific fundraiser, had flirted in January 2013 with joining the Republican contest for the nomination, but dropped out the next April.

When I asked LaHood if he has evidence of Rauner’s involvement, he replied that he only “knows what [he] reads” and that he has spoken to neither Rutherford nor Schock about the unproven Rauner involvement. (Rauner has denied any connection to the attacks against Rutherford or Schock.)

In my previous conversations with LaHood, he has spoken with remarkable affection and respect for Democrats such as Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama—and Pat Quinn, with whom, LaHood said, he worked closely and effectively while transportation secretary. Given his obvious distaste for Rauner, I asked him if Rauner  runs against Quinn in the general election, would he vote for Quinn. 

“I’ll support the nominee of the party; always have and always will. I hope it’s Dan Rutherford.”

I couldn’t let it go quite yet, so I asked him, “If Rauner is the nominee you’ll hold your nose and vote for him?”

“I’ll support the nominee of the party, always have and always will.”

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