01/17/2014 04:43 pm ET Updated Mar 19, 2014

Is GOP Gov Candidate Rauner Nervous? 8 Keys to the Hot Race

By Madeleine Doubek

Wait. Bruce Rauner's attacking his GOP opponents now? What's up with that?

Here's are the 9 key developments from the trail this week after the first forum of the year sponsored by the Daily Herald and ABC7 and my take on why you should care:

Rauner said he never criticized his opponents, only Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. Then, in a first, he proceeded to criticize all of them.

What it means: Despite his vast wealth and total dominance in paid campaign messaging, Rauner's late decision to participate in the forum and to then criticize Rutherford and opponents GOP Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard indicate poll numbers might be moving. Despite maintaining a calm demeanor, Rauner's attack shows he's concerned about 10 days or so of attacks on him.

Do we have a tightened two-man race?
What it means: Rutherford suggested as much in remarks to reporters after the forum. The Rauner-Rutherford exchange also would indicate it's heading that way.

Underscoring it is the news today that Rutherford has more money in the bank at the end of the last reporting period than Rauner, though Rauner can fix that in the batting of an eyelid.

Rauner was seeking, again and again, to reinforce his message that his opponents are weak or beholden-to-union bosses insiders. His opponents have spent the past 10 days trying to sell the message that Rauner is just as much of an insider.
What it means: If Brady, Dillard and Rutherford can gain traction with the attacks and "union bosses" join in with a significant bankroll, they could win the insider label war.

Say what?: Dillard claimed Brady and Rutherford were career politicians and Rauner admired career politicians like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. This from a 30-year veteran of government?

For the first time, Rauner addressed reports that a $25,000 check went monthly to Stu Levine, who later cast a vote to give Rauner's firm state business.
What it means: Again, the implication here is that Rauner and his firm work the political system and take advantage of connections with the best of them in Illinois. Rauner's reply: "Oh my goodness. It's pure baloney... I don't know the guy. I've never met him."

A wheeling, dealing first: Responding to a question from the audience, Rauner told the crowd he likely will cut deals with businesses to get them to locate in Illinois should he win the governorship. "I'm telling you, to bring business here, I might have to cut some deals and I'll do that."

Sound-bite central:
Rauner: "I ain't a politician. My youngest daughter said, 'Daddy don't run for governor. I don't want you going to jail.'"

Brady, noting Rauner gave generously to his campaign four years ago: "Got any extra? Send it our way!"

Dillard, asked about his and his running mate's opposing views of the pension reform bill: "Kirk Dillard and Jil Tracy are not always going to agree, just like I don't agree with my wife on some issues."

Rutherford, implying Rauner won't work well with others: "A governor is not king of the forest... I'm going to have a relationship -- not a hammer and shake relationship -- with the Legislature."

Rauner, once more: "This has been a little bit of beat up Brucey morning, and that's OK."
-And finally, Rauner immediately ducked out of the forum without taking questions from reporters.

What it means: Rauner kept his cool and has the money to keep avoiding reporters. He'll continue to try to do that, consistently appealing directly to voters through his ads until Primary Election Day March 18th.

He'll be monitoring that $18 watch and to try to run out the clock.

Is it nuclear winter for the Illinois GOP? Check out the bloody war between a former aide to Congressman Aaron Schock and GOP governor candidate Bruce Rauner.


Madeleine Doubek is Reboot's chief operating officer. She previously managed the Daily Herald newsroom. An award-winning journalist, Doubek served as the Daily Herald's political writer and editor and led the paper's project and investigative work. She believes in more of us taking charge of our state government. Read Doubek's personal take on why she's rebooting. You can find Reboot on Facebook and on Twitter.