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“When you tell people around the country that you’re an Illinois Republican, people laugh,” Congressional candidate Erika Harold said this past Saturday morning at a town hall meeting. She was speaking to a group of about 40 people who had gathered at 9am despite the cold and the snow. It’s not often a former Miss America, Harvard Law School grad, and congressional candidate visits Waynesville, Illinois, population 434.

It isn’t news that big egos dominate the American public square. The stuffiness that often fills the air at political events, however, was absent on Saturday. Erika Harold was clearly relaxed and enjoying herself — and her demeanor seemed to impact most people in the room. She laughed often during her presentation, due to both the humorous comments made by those attending and things she said herself.

Harold has been doing town hall meetings throughout the large geographic district in downstate Illinois. She has put hundreds of thousands of miles on her late model Jeep Liberty driving to meet voters in the cities and as many of the small towns she can. The location this time was the Waynesville Township Library, a rather impressive little place where pictures on the walls boasted of the town’s long history.

Harold spoke for only about ten minutes to open the event. In her introduction she explained that she didn’t grow up participating in beauty pageants, but rather entered them as a way to obtain scholarship money for college. Her success there is well known, becoming Miss Illinois 2002 and Miss America 2003.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 2007 she began to practice law. When the longtime Congressman in the 13th district announced his retirement in 2012 she threw her hat in the ring. Since the retirement announcement came too late for the primary, the slating decision fell to the Republican Party County Chairmen. Despite more than one ballot and a close race, long time congressional staffer Rodney Davis got the nod and he went on to win the general election that fall — though by only 1,002 votes.

Erika Harold at Waynesville town hall meeting

Congressional candidate Erika Harold at Waynesville IL town hall meeting

When Harold announced her plans to run against first term Davis, unsurprising to many, the Republican establishment nearly had a stroke. It wasn’t just RINOs objecting, but the good old boy conservatives joined in as well. One of the more nasty attacks on her candidacy received national attention.

The reasons for the objections varied, but there was an unstated shared theme: an incumbent Republican elected official has, as his right, ownership of said office until he decides to relinquish it.

After Harold’s brief opening remarks she took questions for almost an hour as the town and area residents clearly had a lot on their minds. The politics surrounding her decision, of course, was one of the many topics discussed on Saturday morning. Others subjects included the farm bill, immigration, Common Core, term limits, and the ongoing corruption that is endemic to both Illinois and Washington, D.C.

Harold handled them all deftly. When presented with a complaint about the EPA and its rule making process, Harold apologized for not being ready to answer that adequately. But then she gave a terrific explanation of how the U.S. Congress has handed an unconstitutional law-making power to the Executive Branch.

It’s no mystery why your average Republican Party politician fails to win support for the much-needed policy course corrections facing the nation. Candidates like Erika Harold could easily reverse that losing streak. It’s not just a matter of articulation.

It is an old story that the Republican Party must improve its messaging. Conservative principles can help restore Constitutional government. A big part of effective messaging, though, is effective messengers. They have to be smart, believable and likeable.

Yes, Erika Harold sets a high standard — but it is a standard that can be met. Our country is loaded with attractive, articulate, and passionate political conservatives of all sizes, colors, and backgrounds. What’s missing is a GOP that understands that most of its current standard-bearers are older, tubby, rich white guys that aren’t the best communicators.

It is also an old story that the Illinois GOP is one of the weakest state party organizations in the country. Often when Republicans have a good election nationally the success bypasses Illinois. The reason is not that Illinois voters resemble those found in Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, or California. The reason is because of the low quality of leadership found in the Illinois Republican Party. Rarely are Illinois voters presented with a vision for how the state can be run differently. So it is not all that surprising that when someone of Erika Harold’s caliber steps up — there’s little enthusiasm in the GOP.

Regardless, there is good news to be found. The establishment’s rejection of Harold might not be enough to keep her from victory on March 18th — especially if the reaction of the Waynesville town hall participants is any indication of voter sentiment district-wide.

Should she lose, however, the party can still win if it repents. Harold, with the support she deserves, and with her position as a national figure, can play a big part in re-branding and rejuvenating a moribund Illinois Republican Party — and by extension — have a positive impact beyond the state’s borders. The GOP can’t win without new blood. The good news is that a healthy political blood supply exists in candidacies like Erika Harold’s.

For a good review of articles about Erika Harold’s campaign, visit Republican News Watch.


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