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SPRINGFIELD — As candidates formally began their march to the March 21 primary Monday, experts predicted the 2006 election season will be an expensive one.

With crowded primary races for governor, lieutenant governor and state treasurer, candidates likely will easily surpass records set in recent years.

"We will definitely see some big spending," said Cindi Canary, executive director of the Campaign for Political Reform, which tracks campaign spending in Illinois.

On Monday, the first day to begin filing nominating petitions, candidates lined up outside the Illinois State Board of Elections hoping to get their names at the top of the ballot.

On the Republican side, candidates for governor are pairing up with potential running mates hoping to solidify their support.

The two moderates in the Republican race have tapped conservatives to help bolster their credentials among right-leaning GOP voters. Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka will run with DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett, while Chicago businessman Ron Gidwitz will run with state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger of Elgin.

North Aurora dairy owner Jim Oberweis lobbied Kathy Salvi to be his running mate, but Salvi, wife of former state Sen. Al Salvi of Wauconda, filed to run for a seat in Congress in Illinois' 8th district.

Republicans filing to run for lieutenant governor included Sandy Wegman of Elgin and Jeremy Cole of Canton.

Under the state constitution, lieutenant governor candidates run separately from gubernatorial candidates in the primary. The winners then are paired for the general election.

Under that scenario, voters could choose a gubernatorial candidate and a lieutenant governor candidate who are not aligned.

State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, is not openly courting any of the lieutenant governor candidates in his gubernatorial quest. He has called on his GOP opponents to join him for 14 debates in cities across the state, including Normal, Champaign, Macomb, Charleston and Carbondale.

He acknowledged he faces an uphill fight, but said he's got momentum heading into the new year.

"We will have a well-financed campaign," said Brady, a real estate developer who has served 12 years in the General Assembly.

Experts say spending could surpass the record $184.8 million spent in the 2002 election cycle, which was up 42.6 percent from 1998.

During the 2002 race, Gov. Rod Blagojevich spent more than $23 million to win the seat and he enters his reelection bid with an estimated $14 million on hand.

Aides for the Democratic governor filed his nominating petitions while he spent most of his day in Washington, D.C., to discuss his All Kids health insurance program.

The governor could face a primary challenge from former Chicago alderman Edwin Eisendrath, who campaigned in southern Illinois late last week. Eisendrath hopes to file his nominating petitions by next Monday's deadline.

In the Democratic primary for state treasurer, Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri and Chicago investment banker Alexi Giannoulias submitted their nominating petitions. The winner likely will square off against state Sen. Christine Radogno, R-La Grange.

Mangieri has the backing of the state Democratic Party, which is headed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. Giannoulias has the support of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Most incumbent members of the General Assembly will not face primary challenges.

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