Stephanie Holderfield, who lost Tuesday to a candidate who had withdrawn from the race for Champaign County circuit court clerk, said Wednesday that she believes she still should be the Republican candidate for the office.
And Rick Winkel, a former state legislator who beat Holderfield by 245 votes on Tuesday, repeated Wednesday that he would not accept his party's nomination.
"I really appreciate so many friends voting for me one more time and I hope that they will understand that I must decline the nomination," said Winkel, who collected 8,133 votes to 7,888 votes for Holderfield, even though he dropped out of the race on Feb. 8.
"As I understand the process, the results have not yet been certified. As soon as they are, I will file the necessary paperwork," Winkel said. "I don't know yet when the results will be certified; that will be up to the county clerk.
"When I withdrew from the race several weeks ago, I announced my retirement from active partisan politics. Things are going very well at the university and I have no second thoughts about my decision to withdraw from the race. Who the candidate will be is up to the local Republican Party."
Holderfield, however, said she "earned the right" to be the Republican candidate against Barbara Wysocki, who was elected the Democratic Party candidate on Tuesday. The incumbent circuit clerk, Republican Linda Frank, is not running for re-election.
"Since I announced that I was running for circuit clerk," Holderfield said, "I have been the only candidate that continued to campaign through Election Day. My campaign placed signs, was on the radio, held fundraisers and walked precincts right up to the election. I believe that I have earned the right to remain on the ballot as the Republican nominee, and I feel certain that the elected precinct committeeman will see that this hard work should be rewarded."
But for now, local Republicans seem headed for a drawn-out and potentially divisive fight over who the circuit clerk candidate should be.
County Clerk Gordy Hulten, a Republican, said he expected to certify Winkel as the party's circuit clerk candidate.
"I think it is my duty as the election authority to certify the results of the votes as they were cast, not as I wish they had been cast. I think that's my responsibility," he said. Winkel "was on the ballot. We left him on the ballot for a sound, legal reason. And I anticipate when we review our canvass and release our initial results in 10 days or two weeks or whenever we do it, that we will certify him as the nominee."
Once Winkel formally declines the Republican nomination, Hulten said, local precinct committeemen will have the opportunity to fill a vacancy in nomination "following the process set out in state law."
Holderfield said she wasn't sure what her next move would be. But she said she is "exploring every option that is available." She said she disagreed with Hulten's contention that Winkel is the rightful winner.
"I have been speaking with my attorneys and may appeal this decision," she said.
Meanwhile, the Republican candidate for state Senate in the 52nd District urged party officials to slate Holderfield.
"At the end of the day there are only three possibilities here: Gordy backs down, Stephanie backs down or there's a long, drawn-out legal fight," said John Bambenek of Champaign, a Holderfield ally and the GOP nominee against state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign. "This will be a test of (incoming chairman Habeeb Habeeb's) leadership within the party. The easy way out is to slate Stephanie as the replacement candidate as fast as humanly possible."
Doing that "is the easiest way to make all this go away," Bambenek said. "A long, drawn-out legal challenge that is both contentious and divisive would not be in the best interest of Stephanie, Gordy, the Republican Party or the voters at large."
Holderfield said she was "thankful for the support I have received" but "disappointed" in the outcome.
"We found that it is difficult to counter the many tough contested races that Rick has had to run, spending countless amounts of money and thus many voters still know his name very well," she said of Winkel, who had served on the Champaign County Board as well as four terms in the Illinois House and one in the Senate. "I felt great about the number of votes that I received; however, I am disappointed that more people didn't realize that Rick had withdrawn from the race and had endorsed me."