CLINTON — Speaking to about 50 Republicans in DeWitt County, the four GOP candidates seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, in Congress all stressed how they can beat Democratic candidate David Gill in November.
The four — Kathy Wassink of Shipman in Macoupin County, Rodney Davis of Taylorville, Jerry Clarke of Urbana and Erika Harold of Chicago, formerly of Urbana — spoke for about an hour Thursday at a forum organized by DeWitt County Republican Chairwoman Sherry Brown.
Another forum is to be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Hilton Garden Inn Conference Center in Champaign. It has been organized by Champaign County Republican Chairman Habeeb Habeeb, who attended Thursday night's session in Clinton.
"I know it's going to take $10,000 a day (to run a campaign). That's a lot of money," Wassink said. "I am the one candidate in this race who can combat Gill on the medical issue. I can combat him on the job issue. And I can combat him on the grass-roots issues because these people are fired up, they want somebody different. They just want somebody to go to Washington who is like me and to say, 'No more. We can't have any more of this spending.'"
Harold, a Harvard Law School graduate and former Miss America, told the Republicans that she believes she can help broaden the party's base in the 13th District, which arcs from Champaign-Urbana on the northeast to Collinsville on the southwest.
"I can promise you that I will work very hard in this district and I also would work really hard to expand our party. If we're going to grow and persuade more people, it has to be about addition and not subtraction. It's not just about rallying those who already are on the team, but bringing more people to be a part of us," said Harold, who is black and said she is "not the stereotypical Republican."
She said she would work to attract college students, churchgoers and nontraditional Republican groups to her candidacy.
"What is really at stake in this election is about two competing conceptions of government. The Democratic Party feels it's the government's role to take care of people from cradle to grave. They believe in the expansion of government," Harold said. "And I'm not denigrating the motives. The motives are good. They want to care for people. But we as Republicans have a completely different conception of government.
"We know that our conception of limited government is really what empowers people. It creates the greatest amount of wealth for the greatest number of people. That is really what's at stake."
Davis, an aide to U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said he already has been endorsed by his boss and Republican Reps. Aaron Schock of Peoria and Bobby Schilling of Moline. He said his experience in Washington makes him the best candidate in the race "to hit the ground running and make sure that I could stand toe to toe with David Gill and the Democrats from day one on any issue they want to talk about."
The race, he said, "is not going to be an easy race. This race is a target on Nancy Pelosi's pathway to return to power. We've seen the damage the Democrats can cause. This is a race we can't afford to lose."
Davis said he would fight for crop insurance and risk management programs for farmers and for a strong partnership with higher education institutions in the district.
"The colleges and universities in this district are the key to our economic success," he said.
Clarke, currently an aide to Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Wheaton, and a former aide to Rep. Johnson, was the only candidate to address a controversial local issue, saying he would work to stop the proposed dumping of hazardous chemicals at a nearby landfill.
"That doesn't make any sense to me at all that they want to put a chemical landfill over an aquifer. I've got four kids who drink out of the aquifer every day and the need for that is unacceptable," said Clarke, an Iraq war veteran. "I've spent 27 years learning to fight, and I'll tell you this, if I get this position I will fight this landfill."
And in a significant break with Johnson, he said, "Just for the record, I think we ought to drill every place we can, especially up in ANWR." Johnson bedeviled some Republicans with his longtime opposition to drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge.
Clarke said he would "work tirelessly and run a very aggressive campaign. I've run three campaigns against David Gill already (on behalf of Johnson) and I know him very well. He is way too liberal for this district. I've defeated him three times now and I'd like to do it the fourth time as the candidate."
The four candidates are seeking to replace Johnson on the ballot after the six-term congressman announced in early April that he did not want to run for re-election. He had comfortably won a three-way GOP primary on March 20.
The 14 Republican county chairmen in the 13th District are scheduled to select the new candidate by Saturday, May 19.