Erika Harold is back in Chicago, practicing law and working on behalf of a program for the children of prison inmates.
But maybe not for long. State and local Republican leaders want her on an election ballot and working for the party.
The Urbana native lost to Rodney Davis of Taylorville in May when county chairmen in the 13th Congressional District selected a candidate to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson.
But she's not turning her back on the party and instead plans to help county chairmen in the district in the coming months.
And Harold, 32, said she's considering running for office, perhaps as soon as 2014.
"Whatever she would choose to do she'd be an asset. I don't see any downside at all," said Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party.
"I've never seen anybody step up to the plate so quickly and perform so well, and be so gracious about the whole thing and say 'I still want to be on the team.' A lot of people kick and scream and cry foul. But she went through the process, she did a phenomenal job, she didn't ultimately get the pick, but she leaned over to Rodney Davis and said 'I want to help you.' That's how we win in this state when we play as a team."
The Harvard Law School graduate and former Miss America earned high marks from Republicans for her presentations during what was essentially a compressed, one-month campaign for the Republican nomination for Congress in the 14-county district that arcs from Champaign-Urbana southwest to the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis.
"I have never seen anybody pick up like she did, thrown into a difficult situation where she's basically doing debates with other very good candidates in public forums and perform as well as she did," said Brady. "That process takes people years to learn. She went from zero to 60 in a matter of days. She's a tremendous talent and we need to support her in whatever she wants to do."
Davis said "there's something special about Erika. Just look at her resume, a Miss America obviously, which gets a lot of play but that sometimes overshadows that she's a very successful attorney and a Harvard law grad. She is a very bright, intelligent person and one of the nicest persons you'll ever meet."
Champaign County GOP Chair Habeeb Habeeb said he was "very impressed with the way Erika handled herself during the nomination process.
"She was very intelligent and had a great grasp of many legislative and political issues. For the topics where she did not have a position on, she quickly gathered facts, talked to various groups, and developed an excellent knowledge in a very short time."
Party leaders have suggested that Harold could be a candidate for anything from state representative or lieutenant governor to state attorney general or even the U.S. Senate.
"As far as the opportunities, I think the sky's the limit for her," said McLean County Republican Chairman John Parrott Jr., who has recruited Harold to be keynote speaker at a party fundraiser this fall.
"She's probably the type of person we need in the state of Illinois to turn this state around," Parrott said. "But at the same time, I think she has great skills for the federal government too. It would be her pick as to where she wants to go."
Habeeb said he would "love to see her run for one of the various statewide offices, and if she does she will get a lot of backing, will be able to raise a lot of funds, and will get many votes from Republicans, Democrats, and independents."
Davis said: "If Erika Harold wants to run on a statewide basis, I'll be the first one to say I'd love to see her on the ballot and I'd love to be one of her first supporters."
State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said he knows Harold from when both were students at the University of Illinois. He called her "fabulous" and also suggested he'd like to see her run statewide.
Rose also thinks the young, multiracial attorney could be helpful to the Mitt Romney campaign this fall.
"Not to make any suggestions, but I could see her as a big asset on college campuses this fall," said Rose.
Harold said she doesn't plan to attend the Republican National Convention this summer (she spoke at the 2004 convention) and will be more focused on local events.
"For me it has always been about supporting the causes that are important to me and trying to be supportive of things that I though were worthwhile endeavors," she said. "I met a lot of honorable, noble people in the campaign and I want to support their efforts. Nothing is finalized, but I'll be at some events in Sangamon and McLean counties and potentially some other places too. And I'd love to be back in Champaign County."
She's considering running for office, "but I don't have any concrete ideas at this point. I think the same way which this past experience was unplanned and unexpected, I think that opportunities sometimes present themselves and it's just about being ready to respond if it's a moment where you can add your voice. I certainly would be open to something if I felt like I had something to add to the debate."
Asked whether she was more interested in a state or federal office, Harold was noncommittal.
"There's a lot that needs to happen at the state level in terms of pension reform and making Illinois more fiscally solvent. But in Washington there are a lot of other issues that the federal government can uniquely affect. Both interest me," she said. "What I did see (while campaigning for the congressional nomination) was how concerned people were about the fiscal condition of the state of Illinois and how in some ways you can't move past that and think about some of these broader federal issues until you think through the facts that there are parts of Illinois government that are fiscally insolvent."
Despite losing the GOP nomination to Davis, Harold said she found the process "to be a really positive, beneficial experience overall. There's nothing like actually being in the arena to know what it's like."
She claimed she wasn't disappointed with the result.
"You really have to be prepared for both. I think that running for political office or putting yourself in the arena for political consideration is a fairly unique process," she said. "You're going to face either acceptance or rejection in a public way and I think that how you handle it says a great deal about who you are. So if you're not prepared to lose gracefully you probably shouldn't be involved.
"It's important in the political process to not take anything personally. I've even had conversations with people who did not support me who said they thought I did an impressive job and want to support me if I do something in the future. You can't take anything personally."
Harold said she is living in Chicago, "but I don't know what the future holds."
She continues to work for the law firm of Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella, and to serve on the board of directors of Prison Fellowship ministries.
"My firm was incredibly supportive and excited about me (campaigning for the congressional seat). I'm very grateful for that," she said.
On the day after the 13th District county chairmen chose Davis for the GOP nomination, Harold said, she was scheduled to speak at a Champaign church.
"It's interesting how life orders itself," she said. "I had agreed to do the sermon at Meadowbrook Church that Sunday. I knew I would be talking about my life and how faith helped me endure certain challenges. I realized at some point that I probably wouldn't be able to write that sermon until I knew the results. It would be an interesting sermon one way or another. Thinking through the eternal prospective on life and trying to serve really helped me put everything in perspective."
Still, she did get wistful thinking about a possible race against Democratic nominee David Gill of Bloomington.
"I think it would have been an unusual campaign. I think there would have been a lot of historic firsts. We wouldn't have known what to expect so I think we could have been writing the rule book in a lot of respects," Harold said.