Just who could be the first black female president? Usually, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, known as “the female Obama,” comes to mind. But, what about Erika Harold, a 34-year old Harvard trained lawyer and Miss America 2003. (Pageants are apparently a short stop to politics these days). In 2003, when Harold was 22 and making speeches as part of her duties, she told students at East St. Louis High School that the Oval Office was her ultimate goal, though now her focus is on a more immediate goal.
Her first hurdle — Tuesday’s Republican primary election for Illinois’ 13th district — is her first major race, although she is hardly new to the political scene. In 2003, the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) named her woman of the year. The following year, she spoke at the Republican National Convention. She was also a featured speaker at CPAC this year. Her route to Congress is not an easy one, and she is very much the underdog and has broken many of the rules of campaigning. She’s not waiting her turn, she’s running against an incumbent, Rep. Rodney Davis, and she’s ruffled party feathers as a result.
She The People caught up with her and asked her about her unique place in her party:
Should she defy the odds and come out of her race as the winner, she would join Mia Love, who is running for Congress in Utah, as a poster girl for the new GOP, a party that wants to broaden its reach and be more inclusive to women, African Americans and young people. She rejects the “tea party” label, but her focus on the Constitution, along with her antiabortion stance and belief in limited government, suggests she fits right in with that wing of her party.
Harold said that she was approached by GOP gubernatorial candidates to join their ticket as lieutenant governor, but she declined, saying that she felt that she would be most competitive in the 13th district.
It hasn’t been easy. Fundraising and staffing have been challenging. And a GOP county chairman had to resign this past summer, after he compared Harold to a streetwalker.
“There have been members of the Republican establishment who have made campaigning in their county difficult, telling me I’m not welcome or denying me access to certain resources, and I won’t speculate as to why I think that conduct is occurring,” she said. “There was such an effort by the party to get me to leave the race, the fact that I have withstood that pressure, has said that I’m the kind of person who would withstand pressure.”
Even as she has alienated some in her party for challenging an incumbent in a swing district, she has picked up some fans.
From the Chicago Tribune:
Harold is more passionate and forthright — unafraid, for example, to argue for specific (and unpopular) changes to Medicare and Social Security benefits. Yes, it’s liberating to be the underdog. But Harold is saying things that need to be said, and Davis — the incumbent — isn’t. Harold is endorsed.
And in August, the Weekly Standard likened her to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and President Obama for challenging her party’s establishment.
“Today, the national Democratic party belongs to Obama just as surely as the New Jersey Republican party belongs to Christie,” wrote Jonathan V. Last in August. “Erika Harold understands that while political establishments can be powerful, they are neither irresistible nor immortal.”
Harold hopes her candidacy will inspire other women to run for office.
“When I see young women, often times there are young ladies who come to my events and they know I’m a former Miss America and even if they are young, I tell them to envision themselves running for office,” Harold said. “There is power in symbolism. If more young women can see people who look like themselves, they will aspire to achieve like them. They will see themselves as having a voice in the political process.”