Jim Dey | Take it from Erika Harold: Running for office is a marathon

Jim Dey | Take it from Erika Harold: Running for office is a marathon

For people wondering just how big Illinois is, there's a great way to find out — run for statewide office.

The statistics — 102 counties, 12.5 million people — paint a picture.

But until it's mandatory to traverse the state from top to bottom and side to side day after day, mornings through evenings, it's just a theoretical marathon.

That's why Erika Harold — former Miss America and current Champaign lawyer and Republican candidate for Illinois attorney general — has some advice for top officials in both the Republican and Democratic parties.

"I think they need to put candidates through some kind of physical training to prepare for running," she said.

In other words, candidates who want to run need to be ready for a grind that includes walking in one parade after another during the summer, meeting and greeting people all day, lengthy car drives from one locale to another and submitting to radio, television and newspaper interviews at every stop along the way.

Harold started her week Monday with a radio appearance in Champaign, followed by stops at Restoration Urban Ministries and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. Then there was a scheduled meet-and-greet session at another candidate's fundraiser in Decatur.

The day wraps up with a trip to Bloomington, where Harold prepared for another "full day" of campaign activities today.

Recent appearances have included the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago, where Asian voters complained to her about how corrupt government is in Illinois and raised concerns about anti-Asian discrimination their children might face in seeking admission to elite schools.

Harold made another stop at the Girls' State convention in Charleston, where she urged the young women to become involved in their communities.

"I told them their perspectives matter, their voice is needed and they should embrace the opportunity to prove (doubters) wrong," she said.

But Harold warned them that the rules are different for women who run for office.

"People will pay attention to what you wear, your hair," she said.

By now, Harold is used to the rigors of campaigning and the off-beat questions people ask.

She announced her candidacy in August 2017 and began preparing to run well before that.

Harold handily defeated a challenger in the March Republican primary. She faces Democratic state Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago in November's general election.

Illinois being a solid Democratic state, Harold is running uphill.

The only poll she has seen has her nine points down, a "single-digit" deficit that "made me feel pretty good" because her campaign is not yet in full swing like it will be in October.

Harold said she's pleased that her "core message is resonating." She's talking about the attorney general's office taking a more aggressive stance in pursuing public corruption, supporting anti-gerrymandering measures that would strip legislators of the authority to draw their own Senate and House district maps and taking on the opioid epidemic.

Mostly, she's promoting herself as a candidate who believes that the attorney general "should not be a partisan office," but instead one that will address all issues, regardless of whether they affect one political party more than another.

She said that's especially the case involving public corruption. Harold contends that current four-term Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of longtime Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, has not been as zealous as she could have been in pursuing corruption cases.

She said Madigan has had "statutory authority" to pursue some cases but "chose not to do so." In other instances where Harold said the attorney general does not have jurisdiction, she would urge legislative action to provide jurisdiction.

Harold said campaigning has been a learning experience. For example, when she started, she assumed voters wanted to hear about her policy positions. What she discovered is that they want to know who the candidate is before they find out what the candidate wants to do.

"None of the (policy issues) matter until they know who you are, why you care and, most important, why you care about them," she said. "It has to point to something larger that connects to other people's life experiences."

As a former Miss America, Harold said people are naturally curious about that. Some even want to know what she thinks about the organization doing away with the swimsuit competition.

"I'd be lying if I said it never came up," she said.

Other unusual questions have come from an apparent tax protester who asked if she would encourage Illinois residents not to pay their state income taxes.

Harold said she told him that she is "running to encourage people to follow the law" and because she "wants to uphold the law."

The unmarried Harold said she has also been asked if she can be attorney general while being single.

She answered that she can because "I have a great legal background."

At this point, not too many questions leave her scrambling for answers. But she has sometimes been asked if she's a Cardinals, Cubs or White Sox fan. Then, she said, Harold pleads the Fifth Amendment because she doesn't want to "alienate half the state."

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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