Erika Harold Could Be a GOP Star. First, Though, She’ll Have to Win

The former Miss America says she’s a “stronger fiscal conservative” than her Republican rival.

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Illinois Republican congressional candidate Erika Harold campaigns at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., March 8, 2014.

DAVID SWERDLICK/THE ROOT

There’s a young, multiracial Harvard lawyer running for Congress in Illinois.

But it’s not 2000, and she’s not Barack Obama.

And while former Miss America Erika Harold would almost surely resist the comparison—particularly a week out from primary election day—it’s hard not to notice the biographical similarities between her and the president, even though she’s a self-described “constitutional conservative” running to unseat incumbent GOP Rep. Rodney Davis, and hoping to sit on the opposite side of the aisle from Obama’s party in the House of Representatives.

The 33-year-old has that same political star potential; she got the Chicago Tribune’s endorsement; and she’s endorsed by former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka, a Republican who once said that the “biggest mistake I ever made” was not running against Obama for Senate in 2004.

What she doesn’t have is official GOP backing.

She never got the chance to take her case directly to voters in 2012, because a committee of GOP county chairmen selected Davis, ahead of Harold and one other candidate, to fill an outgoing congressman’s open general-election ballot slot. Controversy ensued in the run-up to this year’s race, when a Davis supporter referred to Harold as, among other things, a “street walker” who works “for some law firm that needs to meet their quota for minority hires.”

The national party is sitting it out for now, with a Republican National Committee representative saying, simply, that “whoever wins the primary and enters the general election as our nominee has our full support.” Which makes sense, up to a point. But for a party professing to go all out in its efforts to appeal to African Americans, young voters and women, it seems a little as if the RNC is opting to punt on third down.

So Harold—whose campaign only had $137,000 on hand in March, compared with more than $1 million for Davis—has to try winning with the ground game. And that’s where I caught up with her, at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, where she was named one of CPAC’s 2014 “10 Under 40” and where she barnstormed around the convention, meeting and talking to conservative activists and giving a brief speech on the main stage—where she came off a tad gauzy at first—expressing a somewhat generic “desire to see constitutional principles restored to our government.” But when she recounted her experience volunteering in prison ministry, and delivering “the very simple, powerful message of God’s love and redemption” to women inmates, it was a big hit with the conservative crowd:

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