There's going to be a Republican Party primary election next March for the 13th Congressional District seat, but challenger Erika Harold said Tuesday she'll do her best to keep it from becoming negative.
URBANA — There's going to be a Republican Party primary election next March for the 13th Congressional District seat, but challenger Erika Harold said Tuesday she'll do her best to keep it from becoming negative.
Harold, a 33-year-old Harvard law school graduate, former Miss America and Urbana native, will take on U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, in the GOP primary.
It will be the second time the two have faced off. Last May, Republican county chairmen chose Davis over Harold as the party's replacement for former U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, who had withdrawn after winning the primary.
She acknowledged that congressional campaigns "can be extraordinarily negative," but she pledged to run a positive race in the 14-county district that arcs from Champaign-Urbana on the northeast to Edwardsville and Collinsville on the southwest.
"About 10 years ago when I was first thinking about what it might be like to run for public office, I wrote a letter to myself about the goals that I hoped to achieve. And then I wrote also a list of defining principles, not only for the principles that were important to me from a policy perspective but also about how to conduct a campaign," Harold said in an interview after her formal announcement on the steps of Urbana High School. "One of the things I wrote was the importance of not absorbing negativity because I think the second you start to be affected by the things that people are saying about you, then it changes the focus of your campaign and you start to become bitter and resentful and not at all the vehicle of hope and change that people want you to be."
Harold never mentioned Davis in her prepared remarks and referred to him by name only once in a press conference, when she pledged to try to stay positive.
"I hope I'm not being naive in thinking that it's at least possible. That will be my attempt because I think that Rodney is a good person," she said. "It's not at all my attempt to try to destroy him personally. I think that this should be about each one of us making the case to the voters of this district why we're the best representative. I think we should both be able to point to things in our lives and our backgrounds that equip us to do that. I would hope we can do that without becoming negative."
Still, she said she understood that campaigns, especially those that are influenced by special interest groups, can go negative.
"I think the experiences I had being Miss America, facing national scrutiny and then having some issues with the national organization in terms of the type of issues I promoted, I think those experiences did prepare and equip me to handle this stage," she said. "Had I not had those experiences I don't know that I would be prepared for this. I have a pretty thick skin at this point in my life, which I know you must have if you're in politics. But I'm also someone who is pretty committed to build bridges if there is any sort of internal dissension within an organization."
"One of my biggest concerns," she said, is the outside groups that spent millions of dollars in last year's general election race between Davis and Democrat David Gill of Bloomington.
"But to the extent that I can control the commercials that I put out, and the campaign that I'm going to run, I'm going to keep it positive," she said.
Asked if she would take money from special interest groups, she didn't hesitate.
"I'm going to take money from groups that are able to donate to me," she said. "I imagine that the people who donate to me are going to be people throughout the country who donate smaller amounts of money. I recognize that if you are challenging an incumbent you likely are not going to get the same amount of money from PACs and organized groups. But I went into this knowing that because I view this as a grass roots effort, giving the people a choice and reaching out to them and seeing if they will mobilize with me to run this race."
Harold was asked why she was challenging Davis after donating $500 to his congressional campaign last year.
"I donated money because I thought he'd be a more effective representative than David Gill. But I still very strongly believe that I would be the best candidate to represent this district, not only in the general election but also to be able to represent it in Congress," she said. "I think that in order to hold this district and to be able to represent the district effectively, you have to have somebody who can persuasively and compellingly communicate conservative values but also has a demonstrated track record of reaching out to people who are not traditional Republican voters."
Harold, who is African-American, said she wants to help the Republican Party "reach out to voters who don't traditionally vote for" Republican candidates.
"It requires someone who has been in those communities for long periods of time. I think that voters find it cynical if the first time they meet a candidate it's when that candidate is asking for their vote," she said. "It's important that the party run candidates who have an experience and a track record of being involved with those groups of people because that's a starting point."
Harold's announcement in Urbana Tuesday was the first stop of a three-day, 16-city tour of the 13th District.