Tom Kacich: All GOP county officeholders to seek re-election

"Don't mess with success" could be the motto of the Champaign County Republican Party, at least when it comes to countywide offices.

All four Republican candidates whose terms expire next year plan to run for re-election.

That includes county Treasurer Dan Welch, who intends to run for a sixth term. Welch hasn't been opposed since his first campaign in 1998, when he defeated Democrat Jennifer Gentry, 53 percent to 47 percent. Including his time as a regular employee, Welch has been in the treasurer's office for more than 40 years. He started in April 1973.

"I'm fortunate. I've found a job that I really like," he said.

Sheriff Dan Walsh says he's running for a fourth term. He had never been opposed until four years ago when Jerommie Smith ran a write-in campaign and got 4,968 votes to Walsh's 37,214.

"A lot of people ask me if I still enjoy the job," he said, "and most days I do. That's why I'd like to run again."

He also wants to see through the ongoing process with the county board of reworking the county's criminal justice system, which could include a new jail, an addition to an existing jail, new programs to reduce incarcerations or some combination.

"That's a factor," he said.

County Clerk Gordy Hulten says he'll run for his first full term, having been elected to a two-year term last year. He's got a ways to go, though, before catching the all-time local record-holder for county clerk, Republican Dennis Bing, who was elected to seven terms in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.

And Jane Quinlan, the regional superintendent of schools in Champaign and Ford counties, said she intends to seek a third term.

Among Democrats, Charlie Smyth, the Urbana City Council member who got 45.6 percent of the vote against Hulten last year, said he's not interested in running again in 2014.

And Democratic Party Chair Al Klein said he's not aware of anyone interested in challenging any of the incumbents.

"No one has talked to me about it yet, but now is the time to do so," Klein said. "There had been speculation that some of the incumbents would not seek another term. Now that we know that is not the case, we can begin our search in earnest."

So-called "off-year elections" like next year's usually are favorable to Republicans in Champaign County because the crucial University of Illinois student turnout is diminished without a presidential race at the top of the ticket.

Candidates for countywide offices have a Dec. 2 deadline for filing the petitions of candidacy.

Erika Harold on why she's better. Republican congressional candidate Erika Harold displayed a sharper stump speech in her appearance Monday before the Champaign County Active Senior Republicans.

Without mentioning incumbent Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, she argued that she'd be the better candidate to take on former Madison County Judge Ann Callis, the presumed Democratic candidate in the 13th Congressional District that arcs from Champaign-Urbana to Edwardsville, taking in Decatur, Springfield and parts of Bloomington-Normal.

"We're going to be facing likely Judge Ann Callis, a formidable woman with extensive legal experience. She is someone who I think is going to fight really hard for college student votes, and to fight hard to win the votes of women as well," Harold told the group. "I think that I'm the right person to run against her as a strong woman who will make a strong constitutional case about conservatism, and why our party comes out on the right side of the issues that matter."

She said that she doubted that Callis, when she entered the race, thought that she'd be running against Harold, a former Miss America, Harvard Law School graduate and unsuccessful applicant for the GOP congressional nomination last year.

"But I have to tell you that as someone who has spent time in courtrooms in Chicago, there's no judge that intimidates me and I'd be ready to take the fight to the Democrats if she's the nominee," Harold said.

She said that Republicans should run on "foundational, constitutional principles."

"We as a party are at our strongest when we stand firmly on constitutional principles and say, 'This is what the founders said. This is what our party stands for' and let that be the starting point for any debate," Harold said. "That's what our party needs to be centered upon. Right now we are at a crossroads in our country and in our party. You hear some people say, 'I think we should moderate this' or other people say, 'Well I think we should just focus this group.' What I think we should focus on are our foundational constitutional principles."

She said the Obama administration is guilty of showing "a lack of respect for our Constitution, whether it's the NSA spying on citizens, IRS targeting of not-for-profit organizations, President Obama seeking to at first strike in Syria without congressional approval and federal overreach."

Running against Callis, she said she would "be able to have the best debate and be able draw the sharpest distinctions approaching it from that perspective."

Geography and gender also make her the better choice for Republicans, Harold said.

"When you look at where you'd realistically be able to get some independent, swing votes, I think Champaign County would be that county. And I think the fact that I was born and raised here and have those natural connections that I'd be able to draw upon, I think would put me in a much better position to realistically be able to compete for those votes," she said.

Harold added that "there is an undercurrent of people who do want to see more women in politics. The thing that is most striking to me when I'm doing parades is the number of older women who say, 'You go get 'em' because I think they want to see women have the opportunity to serve in public office, especially women in the Republican Party. I'm not saying that's the reason to vote for me, but I am saying that there is a strong sentiment of women who want to see a woman have the chance to serve."

The current U.S. House has 78 women (out of 435), of whom 19 are Republican. Although it's the greatest number of female members in the history of the House, the record number for Republican women (25) was established in 2007.

Harold, 33, said she wants to see more female candidates.

"Along parade routes I make a point of introducing myself to young girls, those who are 10 or 11 years old. I introduce myself and tell them I'm running for Congress, and I tell them, 'Someday you should aspire to run for political office too' because all the research shows that women are just as capable of holding public office but they often don't see themselves in that role," she said, "It's just because I believe in empowering young women and I want them to see themselves as young leaders."

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached st 351-5221 or at tkacich@news-gazette.com.

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