SPRINGFIELD – Former Miss America Erika Harold says Illinois GOP leaders are using "political obstructionism" to attempt to push her out of the race for a central Illinois congressional seat, and she wants voters to be able to choose between her and freshman Rep. Rodney Davis in the March primary.
"Elections are not coronations," the 33-year-old Urbana attorney said Thursday in a statement. Party leaders, Harold said, have kept her from speaking at the state fair and denied access to the 13th Congressional District's Republican voter data.
But Illinois GOP Chair Jack Dorgan called her charges "ridiculous," telling The Associated Press that Harold been treated no differently than any other primary challenger.
After the party's serious losses at the polls last November, it faced widespread calls to diversify its image and broaden its appeal beyond white, male voters. Harold, a biracial 2003 Miss America with a Harvard law degree, offers that alternative profile. But a number of party officials say her campaign has been lackluster and suggest she's threatening the GOP's hold on an important seat by wasting precious money and resources running against a well-liked incumbent in nationally watched race.
Former Macon County GOP Chairman John Davis told Decatur radio station WZUS-FM this week that Harold should take poor polling numbers to heart and make a graceful exit for the sake of herself and the party.
But Rep. Rodney Davis, for his part, hasn't publicly objection to Harold's bid. The Taylorville congressman's spokesman declined comment Thursday.
Harold and Davis are closely aligned on a majority of issues, with the exception of the internet sales tax, which she opposes and he supports.
One roadblock Harold has faced came earlier this month, when the state Republican Party's central committee voted to deny her access to the party's "voter vault" database of information, which collects residents' political views in the district — stretching from Champaign to the Missouri border near St. Louis.
Party leaders say it wasn't an anti-Harold decision, noting the policy of not providing voter data to primary challengers has been in effect for over a decade. And the information, said Jerry Clarke, GOP state central committeemen in the 15th Congressional District, was collected by Davis' campaign during the 2012 election.
"I think the whole situation is ridiculous," Dorgan said. "Anyone in challenger status would not be given access to data that incumbents have built. Any candidate should understand that."
Harold's spokesman, Phil Bloomer, said the GOP is "just making excuses for their own lack of decency now that someone's calling them out on it."
Earlier this year, a county GOP leader in the district who campaigned for Davis resigned after sending an email in which he referred to Harold as a "street walker" who could fill a law firm's "minority quota" if she lost the race. Davis in June demanded Jim Allen step down and called the email "wrong, appalling and incredibly demeaning."
Since then, many county chairs announced they're backing Davis, and some suggested Harold's efforts would be better spent on a different bid.
"I told her, If you ran for any other office, I'd have been the first one up there working for you," said Rosemarie Long, Sangamon County's first female GOP chairman.
A primary challenge from a candidate with moderate name recognition means Davis will have to spend resources that he could've stockpiled for the general election race. And when it comes to financial support, Harold is far behind: $99,208 in her war chest compared to Davis' $822,145. In the last three-month fundraising period that ended Sept. 30, Harold raised about a fourth of the money Davis did, $72,619 to his $302,069.
Harold says she is determined to stay in the race. In her statement, Harold said party leaders have tried to make sure that Davis does not have an opponent in the primary.
"But votes must be earned; no one is entitled to a nomination," she said.