Rauschenberger is the darling of the "thinking Right," but the conservative wing is divided at the moment and its numbers simply aren't large enough in Illinois to accommodate two or more candidates (Jim Oberweis, Joe Birkett, Bill Brady, and, to some extent, Ray LaHood being the others).
Rauschenberger was endorsed by just about every newspaper editorial board in the state during his U.S. Senate race against Jack Ryan and Jim Oberweis last year, which helped him overcome a terrible fundraising effort. Rauschenberger claimed in May and then again last week that his campaign committee will report having $800,000 at the end of June. That's not bad, but there are doubters out there who don't think the cash is "real."
Still, Statehouse reporters love Steve Rauschenberger, whom they regard as a budget expert and cherish as a font of colorful quotes about Illinois leaders. He can probably expect lots of positive coverage and will most likely use the media quite frequently in the coming months to paint himself as a reformer. He also might be able to break out during any upcoming debates. But he first has to get those numbers up to a place where he can begin to compete.
Rauschenberger's biggest problem last year was money, so if the $800,000 is real, then he'll go a long way towards proving he can stay in for the long haul.
• Joe Birkett - The DuPage County state's attorney just barely lost the attorney general's race in 2002 to Lisa Madigan, the most politically connected person to ever run for that office. You'd think that would make him a strong contender for any office he chose to run for in '06, but Birkett burned a lot of bridges back then and has continued to do so ever since.
Birkett is poised to put at least one negative behind him in the coming weeks when he indicts Brian Dugan for the murder of Jeanine Nicarico - which, frankly, he should have done years ago. Dugan confessed to the crime, you will recall, but Birkett's office continued to pursue murder charges against an innocent man.
Birkett has yet to overcome the lingering questions about what he is doing in this race. Lots of people suspect that Birkett is running for governor merely to retire the hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt from his '02 campaign. Others think he is waiting for a brokered deal that gives him another shot at attorney general. He is also despised by most of the political press for the way his staff treated reporters in '02. So, don't expect a lot of help from that quarter.
He has tried so far to position himself as a corruption-fighter and has taken some of the harshest shots of anyone at Governor Blagojevich. Birkett remains a breakout possibility, particularly because of his base in vote-rich DuPage County. But that tough-guy act of his is beyond old and makes him look arrogant. A little humility, if he's even capable of it, would be a good thing.
• Senator Bill Brady - The Bloomington legislator reminds many people of Rod Blagojevich... but in a good way. He is relatively young and fresh in voters' minds and he has a burning desire for higher office. Brady is also a nice guy and people, myself included, tend to like him.
But Blagojevich did more than just showcase his freshness in 2002. Almost entirely under the radar screen, Blagojevich put together one of the strongest statewide operations ever. The campaign was a technological marvel, greased with millions of dollars and implemented by loads of field workers.
So far, Brady's operation appears tiny in comparison. He says he raised $500,000 in June alone, and that's a good start. We'll see how much of that cash came from other people at the end of the month, when candidates file their disclosure statements. He also doesn't have an organization, which only amplifies the problem of his incredibly low name recognition.
Even with that half-million bucks, Brady needs to do a whole lot more to position himself for contention next year.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.blogspot.com).