URBANA — Erika Harold, an Urbana native who was Miss America 2003 and now is an attorney in Chicago, said Monday that she is "exploring the possibility" to be a Republican candidate for Congress in the new 13th Congressional District.
The GOP nomination opened earlier this month when U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson of Urbana, who had won the party's March 20 primary election, opted not to run for a seventh term. That left the nomination to be decided by the 14 county chairmen in the congressional district that arcs from Champaign County southwest to Madison County in the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis.
"I have spoken with some county chairmen," said Harold, 32. "This is not a decision that I take lightly. I would consider it an incredible honor and privilege to represent the area in which I grew up. I will be assessing in my own heart whether I felt that I was the best person to represent the 13th District. If I did I would likely put my name forth."
But another Republican who had considered seeking the nomination, state Sen. Kyle McCarter of Lebanon, decided against it and said Monday he would run for reelection to his Senate seat.
McCarter had asserted last week that Johnson's retirement was manipulated to help his former chief of staff, Jerry Clarke of Urbana, become the GOP choice.
"You know what's really insulting about this? It didn't just happen," McCarter charged. "There was talk of this happening a year ago, and it's a real insult to the people. Like I said, their vote was taken away from them."
Harold, meanwhile, brings an impressive biography to the table. She received her bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Illinois, and in 2007 received her J.D. from Harvard Law School.
She now practices primarily civil litigation with the Chicago law firm of Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella, P.C. She also is on the board of directors of Prison Fellowship ministries, where she goes into prisons "and we deliver faith-based messages."
Her parents, Donna and Bob Harold, still live in Urbana.
Harold is registered to vote in Cook County and last voted in Champaign County in November 2004, but she noted that "residency requirements for a congressional seat are a bit looser than others. But I certainly understand that if you're going to represent the 13th District you need to be in the 13th District. My family is there. That's where I was born and raised and to me that would be a great honor to be there."
She said she had not spoken with Johnson about the congressional seat, and doesn't believe she knows any of the other candidates — all of them men — who have expressed interest in the position.
"I don't know them. I may have come across them at a Lincoln Day dinner or something but in terms of knowing them well or anything like that, I don't," she said. "But from what I understand there are a lot of qualified people who have decided to put their names forth. I'm just really honored that there are people who are considering me."
Harold said she "dropped in" last Thursday on the Champaign County Republican Party's Lincoln Day dinner where Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was the keynote speaker. Coincidentally she spoke the same night to the 30th anniversary event of the Executive Club of Champaign County.
She said she had not spoken to all of the county chairmen in the district.
"I've spoken with some chairmen and expressed some interest in seeing what the process is like and exploring it. I'm sort of in the information-gathering process myself and I'm definitely someone who likes to think I'm fully informed before making a decision. This certainly will be one of the biggest decisions I've made in my life," Harold said. "I have heard from people in the district who believed that I might be a good representative and they encouraged me to think about it. In terms of a process it's not like a primary where you declare, hold a campaign press conference, print up campaign literature and yard signs. And so I don't know how the process will play out."
In her work with Prison Fellowship, Harold said she got to know the late Chuck Colson, who founded the group in 1976 after serving seven months in prison on charges related to his activities in the Nixon White House.
"He's someone who I would have loved to have asked his advice on his particular decision because he's been a mentor and a role model on the things that one needs to avoid if you're going to be an effective and honorable public servant," Harold said. "Being able to serve on the board and to get to know him has been an incredible honor."
In her work with the group, Harold said she not only counsels inmates but also helps with an Angel Tree program.
"It is an outreach to children of incarcerated people," she said. "They're often a stigmatized population and especially with the work that I've done to help prevent bullying, being able to reach out to these kids who are very much on the margins and don't have a parent there to provide guidance, that's something I'm really passionate about. We deliver gifts to these children on behalf of their parents at Christmastime," she said. "For me it's a way of putting my faith in action and being involved in an effort that lets people know that even if they've made mistakes there are ways to rehabilitate their lives and there are ways of being transformed."