SPRINGFIELD | For a generation of central Illinoisans, the names "Bill Brady" and "Dan Rutherford" have been a mainstay on the ballot at election time, each of the men running for one state governmental post or another.
But the 2014 election will be different. For the first time in their more than two decades of elected life, both are seeking the same seat.
With nine days to go before the March 18 primary, the two downstate Republicans are seeking to win the GOP nomination for governor.
Recent polls have both of them trailing wealthy businessman Bruce Rauner, raising questions about whether they will be the downstate also-rans in the race to see who can take down Democrat incumbent Pat Quinn in November. Also in the race is state Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, who has won the backing of labor unions representing tens of thousands of potential voters.
Rutherford, currently the state treasurer, has been hobbled by allegations lodged in a federal lawsuit that he sexually harassed a male employee and asked him to do campaign work on state time.
Brady, a state senator making his third bid for governor, has been unable to raise the kind of campaign cash needed to compete with Rauner, who has contributed $6 million of his own money to himself in an attempt to control the narrative of the primary campaign.
Yet, both have spent years positioning themselves for this moment. Rutherford says he's the most qualified because he already holds a statewide executive office. Brady says he's the most conservative of the bunch, a position that gives him standing among the base of the Republican Party faithful.
As the clock ticks down on the March 18 primary, it is worth noting that the trajectories of Rutherford's and Brady's political careers are incredibly similar. Here's a look:
-- Both were elected to the Illinois House in 1992, representing a swath of central Illinois that included the neighboring counties of Livingston and McLean.
-- The two operated under the tutelage of state Sen. John Maitland, R-Bloomington, whose Senate district was comprised of their two House districts.
-- Both eventually moved across the Rotunda into the Illinois Senate, where they continued to represent bordering districts.
While serving in the legislature, however, the two took different paths to fill their resumes' for an eventual run at statewide office.
Brady, a real estate developer, focused much of his time in his early career on regulatory issues, including serving as a top ranking Republican on committees that dealt with insurance matters important to his hometown's largest employer, State Farm Insurance Cos.
He also helped pave the way for the creation of Heartland Community College, which now has a campus in Normal. And, he was careful to make sure his voting record reflected his conservative approach.
"I represented an area that was much like suburban area while Dan's district was much more rural," Brady said in an interview last week.
Rutherford made nursing home funding one of his key early issues, working largely in the background to change the system for how companies are compensated for caring for the elderly.
Rutherford said he and Brady had an advantage serving under Maitland.
"We were the two freshman representatives having breakfast once a week with this iconic senator who was an assistant majority leader," Rutherford said. "Others didn't have that kind of access."
By the late 1990s, their paths diverged when Brady opted to make a run for Congress to replace the retiring former U.S. Rep. Tom Ewing, of Pontiac. Rutherford signaled his interest in becoming a statewide official when he said he wasn't interested in the politics of Washington D.C.
Brady lost that race to Republican Tim Johnson and was out of office for two years before returning to replace Maitland, who had suffered a stroke.
Three years later, in 2005, Brady launched his first unsuccessful bid for governor, coming in third in the five-way 2006 GOP primary race. The experience put his name on the state's political radar screen.
Rutherford, meanwhile, made it clear he too was looking at a statewide office.
In 2006 he won the GOP primary to take on Democrat incumbent Jesse White for Secretary of State. Although he lost, he treated it like an investment in boosting his name recognition.
The 2006 tactic worked for both men. In 2010, the duo were again on the statewide ticket, with Rutherford making a successful bid for treasurer while Brady narrowly lost to Democrat Pat Quinn.
"I think Dan and I both knew we were both wanting to elevate our public service and that anything might happen," Brady said. "I liked it a lot better when he was running for treasurer and I was running for governor."
Rutherford said he never envisioned the both of them squaring off for the top spot in state government. But, he added, "Bill Brady truly is my friend."
For Rutherford, the election is a make-or-break moment for his political career. If he loses, he will leave office for the first time in 22 years when his term ends as treasurer next January.
A loss by Brady, however, won't mean the end for him. He is in the midst of a four-year term in the Senate meaning he will be able to return to his seat representing the 44th Senate District after the 2014 election season.