After nearly two months of uncertainty, area Republicans are set to choose a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Saturday is D-Day — Decision Day — in the unorthodox race for the Republican Party's congressional seat for the new 13th District of Illinois.
The 14 county chairmen in the mammoth district, which runs all the way from Urbana to the Missouri border, will meet in Springfield to select one of four candidates competing to fill the ballot vacancy created by the retirement of incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson.
The four are Jerry Clarke of Urbana, a former aide to Johnson and current chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren; Taylorville's Rodney Davis, an aide to U.S. Rep. John Shimkus; businesswoman Kathy Wassink of Shipman; and Urbana native Erika Harold, the former Miss America turned Chicago lawyer.
Our choice is the 32-year-old Harold.
Despite her relative youth, Harold combines poise and personality with solid political skills, a philosophical perspective to guide her policy positions and a solid grasp of the issues.
Indeed, of all the newcomers competing for election to state and federal office in 2012, Harold could be among a relative handful whose political profile will draw nationwide attention. The downside for the GOP, of course, is that national Democrats will be desperate to defeat her now before she can build a base to move up the political ladder.
The three other GOP candidates are impressive in their own rights.
Clarke and Davis are seasoned politicos, wise to the ways of the U.S. House of Representatives through their years of experience as congressional aides. They really could, as each says, hit the ground running.
Wassink has an impressive record as both an entrepreneur and political organizer.
None of them, however, demonstrates the kind of potential political appeal of Harold, who can attract and win over an audience made up of all kinds of people.
Many Democrats, of course, will sneer at Harold's candidacy. The farther away they are from East Central Illinois, the more they will ridicule the choice of a former Miss America as a Republican congressional candidate.
But Harold, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Illinois and Harvard Law School, will knock the stereotype of a vacuous Miss America out cold. That's what she been doing during the candidate forums throughout the district. During last weekend's joint appearance in Champaign, Harold was easily the most impressive speaker.
This race, however, is not just about debating skills or showing grace under pressure. It's about ideas — generally speaking, the direction this country should take.
Will the residents of this new district prefer the solidly liberal approach embraced by the Democratic candidate, Dr. David Gill, or the conservative approach the Republican candidate will espouse?
Each candidate will have his own political base. But this race will be won by the candidate who gets more of the voters who stand between the two major parties.
This will be a difficult contest for both candidates. The district is geographically huge, making the campaigning grueling. Each candidate will need to raise large sums of money to get his message out. There is a learning curve to becoming a candidate and building a campaign organization.
With no incumbent and a new district, everything is up for grabs, and Republicans who insist Gill is too liberal to be electable are making the mistake of overconfidence.
Where some Republicans see an inflexible liberal, voters may see an attractive Democratic candidate — a physician who's spent his professional life helping people and a sincere public policy advocate who's not willing to shade his positions to mislead voters.
Whomever the Republicans choose, this race has the potential to be interesting and exciting. But Harold shows the most potential to be a game-changer, and it's our hope the 14 county chairmen see it that way.