Some Republicans say 13th primary will hurt party
Some Republicans are worried that Erika Harold's decision to challenge Rep. Rodney Davis next year could hurt the party and its chances to retain the 13th Congressional District seat.
"Having just gone through my own primary, I'm not a big fan of primary elections," said state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, a Davis supporter.
Rose spent more than $260,000 last year winning a Republican primary for his Senate seat against Tom Pliura, a lawyer from rural Ellsworth.
"I would hope that (Harold) would run for lieutenant governor," he said. "I think that would project her into the political stratosphere. Primaries are enormously destructive forces. The Republican Party ought to be big enough for both of these people. They're both talented people."
Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign, another Davis supporter, said he was "shocked" that Harold had decided to take on Davis, who has almost $335,000 in his campaign fund.
"I've been a strong support of Rodney. He's a good friend of mine," said Brown. "In fact he ran the victory center (a coordinated call center) when I was running for state rep, so I've known for several years and worked with him very closely.
"We had heard rumors, rumblings about this, but I didn't expect this to turn out the way it has. I think it's going to be a difficult situation for loyal party folks, especially here in Champaign County."
Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, said "I don't understand why" Harold is challenging Davis.
"Rodney's done exactly what I asked him to do, and that was to go to Washington and be his own man and make his own decisions and represent his constituents, and I think he's done that," McCarter said. "Someone like Erika, with as much promise as she has in the Republican Party, why target a young congressman who has done what we asked him to do? People were concerned that he was going to be a puppet of (Rep.) John Shimkus. But he hasn't done that. He's been his own man."
McCarter said he was concerned that former staffers to retired U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, including Mark Shelden and Joan Dykstra, were helping Harold.
"I think they're using her for revenge and that's sad because she has tremendous promise in this party, and how dare they use her leadership abilities and persona. She's just the kind of person that our party needs," McCarter said. "I'm a little shocked that a few disgruntled ex-party people would use her to advance their own careers."
Rose, Brown and McCarter said they would stand by Davis.
"He's our sitting congressman, he's a good friend of mine and I support what he's done while he's been in Congress this short time," Brown added.
Harold, however, said she was focused on Congress and didn't want to run for any office.
"When I was thinking about running for public office, I was thinking, where is an arena in which I could actually make a difference, looking both at the interests that I think I could be a strong advocate for, and also looking at the balance of power, to see where I could actually affect change and advance legislation," she said.
She said she didn't believe she could run for a state legislative office "and affect the kind of change that I wanted to affect.
"My heart really was in this (congressional) district. I sought this seat last time because it's something that I had thought about for quite some time. It wasn't a whim. When I thought about where I would like to serve, it had always been in this area."
She said she didn't give much consideration to running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Sen. Dick Durbin.
"There were a lot of people who suggested a wide variety of potential offices, including the United States Senate. But I think you can't be flattered into running for something that might be beyond what you can conceivably do as a first-time candidate," Harold said. "I think that running for political office, especially if you're sort of a political outsider, there's a steep learning curve. I didn't think that running for the United States Senate — being someone who is not a self-funder — would be a good idea."
Asked if people had tried to dissuade her from running against Davis, Harold said she found a way to avoid the discussion.
"I think there were some people who might have wished I had run for something else, but my strategy for handling it is a I kept my phone on vibrate or silence most of the time," she said. "I decided that once I had made a decision I really don't want to engage in those kind of conversations at this point in time."
She said she believed the primary election campaign would be "really healthy for our party."
McLean County Republican Chairman John Parrott — who won't take sides in the primary — agreed with Harold.
"A lot of people think an incumbent ought to be protected, but I believe primaries are good for the party," he said.
He said Harold "has a lot of ability to reach out to voters that might not be Republicans, and bring them into the tent for the Republican Party," but added "that this is an opportunity to put two qualified people on the playing field."
The Davis campaign issued a brief statement about Harold's candidacy.
"Throughout my first 150 days in Congress, I've lived up to the promises I made to the families of the 13th District. In just five months 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," he said. "It's unfortunate that in today's political environment campaigns never end, but my focus has been and will continue to be on working hard in Washington and in Illinois for the families of Champaign County and the rest of the 13th District."
Champaign County Republican Party Chairman Habeeb Habeeb, who is out of the country, issued a statement that took no side.
"We have run four positive countywide campaigns last year and won all four. My desire from both camps would be to run a positive campaign, and I think they will," he said.
The Davis campaign also issued statements from two supporters, former Gov. Jim Edgar and U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Manteno.
"You won't find a more passionate and effective advocate for the residents of central and southwest Illinois than Rodney Davis. In the short time he's been in office, he's proven that can put politics aside to get things done and make a difference in Washington," said Edgar.
"After just 150 days in Congress, Rodney has been true to his word — voting to rein in excessive spending and working tirelessly to put Americans back to work. Rodney is a terrific public servant, and the families of the 13th district know they can count on him to be their voice in Washington," Kinzinger said.