JERSEYVILLE — For the most part, those who attended a town hall meeting with Republican congressional candidate Erika Harold liked what they heard and even said they'd vote for her in the March 18 primary election.
The problem is, there weren't many people at the meeting.
About 15 people attended all or parts of the session at the Jersey County Administration Center in this far western Illinois county, about 15 miles from the Mississippi River and 155 miles from Harold's home in Urbana.
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Wednesday's town hall was the third arranged by an underfunded campaign that is desperate for free media since Harold's primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, hasn't committed to any candidate debates.
But like a town hall meeting last week in Litchfield — held a day after a major snowstorm — this one was victimized by a controversial meeting over local school budget cuts scheduled at the same time.
"When we found out last night that there was going to be an emergency school meeting, we understood that a lot of people would be going to that school meeting," said the former Miss America, who says she is running an "insurgent" campaign against Davis. "Canceling this meeting wasn't an option because we knew there were people who had planned to come."
"Had I known about the meeting earlier," added Jersey County Republican Chairman Floyd Alexander, "I would have rescheduled it."
Alexander, who indicated he's committed to Davis, said he was happy to set up the meeting for Harold, a Harvard Law School graduate who is attracting national attention, but not as much in the large 13th Congressional District that cuts across central Illinois from Champaign-Urbana on the northeast to Edwardsville and Collinsville on the southwest.
"I'm going to be truthful, I told Rodney Davis I'm supporting him," said the plainspoken GOP chairman. "If that doesn't pan out and Erika gets the nod, I'll work 110 percent for her. I'm out here to get them elected." Alexander said Davis is well-known and popular in Jersey County.
"He worked for (Congressman) John Shimkus, and he's well-known," Alexander said. "But I do know that a lot of people like Erika. To me, if you know her you like her. I think it will be close."
Another longtime Republican voter, Russell Crotchett of Jerseyville, said he likes both Harold and Davis. He said he had hoped Davis would run against someone else, eventually suggesting that he would have preferred Harold take on U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield.
"How do you explain that in the last election you went out and told your people that Rodney Davis is the man and campaigned for him as a good, upright, upstanding guy? And now you come back two years later and change your mind? We're not that kind of people," he said. "She's a very attractive candidate, but we're not that way."
Others, though, in the heavily male group at the town hall, said they would support Harold over Davis.
"I'm going to vote for you, just because you're a woman. The men have had their chance," said Gerald Fritz of Jerseyville, who said he was so Republican "that if my mother was a Democrat I wouldn't vote for her." Fritz said he favored Harold "because I just feel she's got grit."
Doug Schell, also of Jerseyville, called Wednesday's town hall "very enlightening. She's very articulate, very well-spoken. And if she has a chance to meet people and continue what she's doing, I think she could easily convince people."
But that's the problem. With about two months until Election Day, Davis has the name recognition and money — more than $1 million in his campaign fund, according to a story leaked Wednesday to the Washington-based publication Roll Call.
Harold clearly doesn't have the money. The only "staff" accompanying her Wednesday was her father, Bob Harold.
"I won't be making any leaks about my fundraising numbers," she said, "but I think we've reached the point in the race where we will not be focusing on money. It's time to focus on issues.
"Part of the reason that people raise lots of money is to force others out of the race. We now are very close to that election where people are starting to focus on the issues and who can hold this seat and best advocate for the 13th District. That has nothing to do with fundraising. That has to do with the capacity to articulate a position, defend that position and then stand up on the issues."
In response to a question from the only woman voter at the meeting, Cindy Parish of Jerseyville, Harold cited three issues where she would have cast a more fiscally conservative vote than Davis.
Harold said she would have opposed an amendment to the Hurricane Sandy relief bill last year. "Very little of it was emergency relief," she said. "It was a way for members of Congress to add things in that would benefit their areas and circumvent the earmark process."
She also said she would have voted against a budget agreement last month that cut veterans' pensions.
The third issue related to her opposition to an Internet sales tax.
"It's a way in which you can see increased taxation and also I think will open the door to increased regulation," she said. "Those are three concrete ways in which my view of government is more fiscally conservative."