Here she comes: (For­mer) Miss Amer­ica GOP con­test for House in Illi­nois could get ugly for Erika Harold

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY ALEX SWOYER

She reigned for a year over the en­tire coun­try, but Erika Harold now would hap­pily set­tle for rep­re­sent­ing just the 13th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict in Illi­nois. Ms. Harold wowed the judges to take home the tiara as Miss Amer­ica a decade ago, but she may face a tougher au­di­ence as she takes on a sit­ting con­gress­man in the March 18 Repub­li­can pri­mary.

Be­cause Democrats have a top-tier re­cruit in the swing dis­trict in the center of the state, the con­ser­va­tive Weekly Stan­dard says Ms. Harold’s up­start chal­lenge has cre­ated “the most in­ter­est­ing House pri­mary of the 2014 cy­cle.”

The 33-year-old Ur­bana lawyer does not fit the out­dated stereo­type of a beauty queen: Of mixed black and Amer­i­can In­dian an­ces­try, Ms. Harold chose an­tibul­ly­ing and ab­sti­nence as her pri­mary is­sues as the 2003 Miss Amer­ica and used the schol­ar­ship pro­ceeds from her win to put her­self through Har­vard Law School.

She also is run­ning in the face of strong op­po­si­tion from the lo­cal Illi­nois Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment, which fears a di­vi­sive pri­mary could dam­age the chances of fresh­man Rep. Rod­ney Davis, who eked out a vic­tory in a dis­trict that Barack Obama won in 2008 and ran neck and neck with Repub­li­can chal­lenger Mitt Rom­ney in 2012.

The Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment’s open hos­til­ity to Ms. Harold’s race al­ready has cost Jim Allen his job as Mont­gomery County Repub­li­can Party chair­man. In an email that sur­faced, he slammed Ms. Harold as a racial quota ben­e­fi­ciary who was “be­ing used like a street walker” by the Demo­cratic Party to di­vide the Repub­li­can ranks. Mr. Davis and other party lead­ers quickly con­demned the email, and Mr. Allen re­signed. Repub­li­can of­fi­cials in­sist they would be happy to sup­port the young, ar­tic­u­late Ms. Harold as a can­di­date — just not in a con­tested dis­trict with a Repub­li­can in­cum­bent.

But even some in­side the party say Ms. Harold de­serves a chance to present a fresh face for the GOP.

“We’ve got some old guys in this party who re­ally don’t get it,” Doug Iben­dahl, a one­time gen­eral coun­sel to the state Repub­li­can Party, told the St. Louis Post-Dis­patch. “If they don’t like a lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion, then they’re in the wrong party.”

Ms. Harold re­jects the no­tion that she is a party crasher.

“It’s time for the next gen­er­a­tion of lead­er­ship within the Repub­li­can Party to step up,” she said in an in­ter­view. “In so many ways, our party is not re­ally reach­ing out to peo­ple who share our val­ues, who may be turned off by some of the brand­ing is­sues we have.”

Reach­ing out

Ms. Harold, who would be the first black Repub­li­can woman elected to Congress, ar­gued that her ex­pe­ri­ence reach­ing out to other women, youths and mi­nori­ties places her in a good po­si­tion to en­gage vot­ers in the gen­eral elec­tion.

The one­time Miss Amer­ica also has not been shy about call­ing out party el­ders for try­ing to make the pri­mary race essen­tially a beauty pageant in which only her op­po­nent is al­lowed on the cat­walk, deny­ing her ac­cess to voter lists and lim­it­ing her speak­ing time at ma­jor party func­tions.

“Mem­bers of the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment con­tinue their at­tempts to make this pri­mary a coronation,” she said in a press state­ment in Oc­to­ber. “From Day One, party lead­ers have an­gled to en­sure that Con­gress­man Rod­ney Davis is the only one on the Repub­li­can pri­mary bal­lot.”

Robert Bradley, a for­mer pro­fes­sor in the pol­i­tics and gov­ern­ment depart­ment at Illi­nois State Univer­sity, said Repub­li­cans are ea­ger to hold the seat in part be­cause the area has sent only one Demo­crat to Wash­ing­ton since the Great De­pres­sion.

“The pri­mary is more in­ter­est­ing be­tween the Repub­li­cans” be­cause of that, he said, adding that some GOP ac­tivists see Mr. Davis as “too mod­er­ate.” How in­volved the state and na­tional par­ties will be in shap­ing the race could be crit­i­cal, he said.

Mr. Davis — who be­came the newly drawn 13th Dis­trict’s Repub­li­can can­di­date when the first nom­i­nee dropped out abruptly — has tried to stay above the fray. He said he is con­cen­trat­ing on his work in Wash­ing­ton and played no part in any ef­fort to un­der­mine his op­po­nent’s cam­paign.

“Through­out my first 12 months in Congress, I’ve lived up to the prom­ises I made to the hard­work­ing tax­pay­ers of the 13th Dis­trict,” he said. “I’ve voted to cut gov­ern­ment spend­ing and ad­dress the na­tional debt while ad­vanc­ing leg­is­la­tion to put Amer­i­cans back to work and get our econ­omy mov­ing again.”

Mr. Davis said it is un­for­tu­nate that “in to­day’s po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment, cam­paigns never end,” but “my fo­cus has been and will con­tinue to be to make Wash­ing­ton work for the fam­i­lies of the 13th Dis­trict.”

Dis­pelling stereo­types

Ms. Harold quickly dis­pels any neg­a­tive stereo­types about beauty queens, fo­cus­ing her cam­paign mes­sage on ex­pand­ing the econ­omy and con­trol­ling the bal­loon­ing na­tional debt.

“Right now, we have a bur­geon­ing na­tional debt and it poses eco­nomic prob­lems to us. It also makes us in­debted to other coun­tries,” she said. “It doesn’t put us on the right path to be able to grow eco­nom­i­cally, and we’ve seen a lot of gov­ern­ment by cri­sis and con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tions, and that’s not the way to move for­ward with pros­per­ity.”

She also ar­gues that she is a bet­ter con­gres­sional fit for the dis­trict than Mr. Davis.

“It takes a unique set of prin­ci­ples and val­ues to rep­re­sent this dis­trict ef­fec­tively,” she said. “You have to be some­one who both is a pro­po­nent of strong fis­cal ideas, but can also en­gage demo­cratic and in­de­pen­dent vot­ers. I think some of the ideas I have in terms of crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form, those can en­gage vot­ers who may not or­di­nar­ily vote for a Repub­li­can can­di­date.”

Mr. Davis voted for the bi­par­ti­san bud­get deal signed by Pres­i­dent Obama in De­cem­ber, but Ms. Harold is­sued a state­ment say­ing she would have voted against it.

Sam Haskell, chair­man and CEO of the Miss Amer­ica Or­ga­ni­za­tion, said politi­cos should not un­der­es­ti­mate the peo­ple skills and so­cial poise it takes to win a highly com­pet­i­tive beauty pageant.

“The Miss Amer­ica pro­gram pro­vides per­sonal and pro­fes­sional op­por­tu­ni­ties for young women to pro­mote their voices in cul­ture, pol­i­tics and the com­mu­nity,” he said. “Dur­ing her year of ser­vice as Miss Amer­ica 2003, Erika em­bod­ied th­ese ideals by in­ter­act­ing with leg­is­la­tors and tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore Congress, which pro­vided her with a foun­da­tion to pur­sue a ca­reer in the field of pol­i­tics.”

Sur­pass­ing Mr. Davis in the pri­mary will be only half the bat­tle, an­a­lysts said. The fa­vorite in the Demo­cratic Party pri­mary is for­mer Illi­nois 3rd Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit Court Judge Ann Cal­lis, al­though physics pro­fes­sor Ge­orge Gollin also is mak­ing a strong bid for the nom­i­na­tion.

De­spite her high pro­file, Ms. Harold faces daunt­ing num­bers with less than three months be­fore the pri­mary.

A poll con­ducted for the Davis cam­paign by the Repub­li­can Party sur­vey firm Pub­lic Opin­ion Strate­gies showed the in­cum­bent with 63 per­cent of the vote among Repub­li­can vot­ers, with Ms. Harold at only 15 per­cent. Num­bers from Spring­field polling firm We Ask Amer­ica gave Mr. Davis a 53.5 per­cent to 16.3 per­cent edge.

De­spite her un­usu­ally high pro­file, the chal­lenger also faces a steep fund­ing dis­ad­van­tage. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est re­ports, Mr. Davis has a nearly 9-1 edge in fundrais­ing with $882,000 in the bank, com­pared with $99,000 for Ms. Harold.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Be­fore fac­ing the Demo­crat in Illi­nois’ 13th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, Erika Harold, Miss Amer­ica 2003, will have to de­feat Rep. Rod­ney Davis in the Repub­li­can pri­mary.

ERIKA HAROLD FOR CONGRESS

Erika Harold has won ad­mi­ra­tion from Illi­nois Repub­li­cans, but party of­fi­cials are not happy about her run for Congress against a GOP in­cum­bent in a swing dis­trict.

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