Republican congressional candidate Erika Harold, who won the Miss America contest in 2003 before graduating from Harvard Law School, wasted little time in her new campaign before challenging one of the most cherished of Democratic talking points: the ‘war on women.’
“If I thought that the Republican Party wasn’t a welcoming place for women, I wouldn’t run, because making sure that women have the ability to pursue their aspirations both professionally and within their families is something that’s very important to me,” Harold replied when The Washington Examiner raised the topic during a phone interview conducted in two parts on Thursday and Friday. Harold added that she wants “to show that principles of economic freedom and limited government are not part of the ‘war on women’ but can actually empower women.”
To that end, she suggested that “it’s important for our party that we do promote strong women in the Republican Party, because that’s a great way of showing that, not only is there no war, but that we support women that want to stand for conservative principles.”
For instance, Harold opposes the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate or contraception mandate contained within Obamacare, because she believes it forces religious groups to violate their principles.
“[T]he HHS mandate is not protective enough of religiously-affiliated institutions, because they have the right to operate themselves in a way that are consistent with the values that are important to them,” Harold said. “And it’s aside from whether I disagree or agree with the particular views that they have. Protecting religious liberty is a fundamental value of our country that should be respected regardless of the [group's] religious background.
Harold, who did a stint at Sidley & Austin — where Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, practiced law before her — said she has defended religious organizations during her time as a lawyer. “Any time an organization’s right to define itself is infringed upon, each one of us is a little less free,” she said.
When a group of male clerics made the same argument before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Democrats dismissed them as unqualified based on their gender while some liberals accused Republicans of misogyny. You might thus expect the national party to rally around a spokeswoman such as Harold, but there’s a hitch: she’s challenging a freshman Republican, Rodney Davis, who took office six months ago, after receiving the nomination from a group of local party officials. (Party officials had the power to make that decision because Davis’ predecessor, after winning the 2012 Republican nomination, decided to resign. Harold was also considered at that time.)
“Under the circumstances where you have a selection process [in which] it comes down to county chairmen — and a very close vote at that — I think it’s important for the party that the primary voters within the district have the final say on who represents them going forward,” Harold said to explain her decision to challenge a fellow Republican.
The National Republican Campaign Committee believes Davis has proven himself on the campaign trail and in Congress. “There has been no bigger advocate for the families of the 13th Congressional District than Rodney and it was apparent from his first day in office that he would fight for his constituents and work tirelessly to get the job done right,” NRCC spokeswoman Katie Prill said in a statement to The Examiner. “Between his continued efforts to end VA disability claim backlogs to his nonstop work to protect jobs within the 13th District, Rodney Davis has put Illinois families first.”
Davis won the seat by four-tenths of a percentage point last year, in perhaps the closest House race of the cycle. The NRCC named him as one of their top funding priorities in late April, when Harold was rumored to be seeking office but not necessarily running for the House seat.
“We look forward to continuing to work with Rodney Davis to ensure he is ready to run a well-funded and organized campaign in the 2014 election year,” Prill also said.
Harold expects to lose the money war, but she thinks she can raise enough to be competitive. “I’m hoping to raise money in the district, which has begun to happen, and also I’m finding that people from around the country are going to the website and donating — people I’ve not met before, but who maybe met me as Miss America or for whatever reason find something about my background or my candidacy to be appealing.” Harold said on Friday, when a Politico story about her candidacy was featured on the Drudge Report. “Someone [told me], ‘You made Drudge Report!’ and the number of people who emailed me about that, in particular, was astonishing. So, that certainly did not hurt.”
Online fundraising has been a hallmark of many successful outsider campaigns in the last several years, from then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential bid to the Tea Party races of the last few years. And, it’s conceivable that the NRCC’s support for Davis helps Harold run the kind of outsider campaign that has proven effective in Republican primaries since the rise of the Tea Party.
Still, it would be surprising to see Harold wrap herself in a Tea Party flag. “[W]hile I do support conservative values, I also think that I am able to reach out to voters who may not traditionally vote for Republican candidates – and that’s really important, because this is a swing district that has a lot of college campuses,” she said.
She describes herself on her campaign website as pro-Second Amendment (she opposes the background check bill that failed in the Senate earlier this year, noting that “the legislation was [not] something that actually would have prevented the horrific events of Newtown”) and pro-life (citing the ”ethos of respect for the value of each human being” in the Declaration of Independence).
Harold wouldn’t say what she thinks the law should be in regards to abortion, though. “[B]oth parties would agree that it is a tragedy when any woman finds herself in a position that she feels that abortion is her only answer,” Harold said during the interview. “And I think that both parties have to talk about this issue in ways that are meaningful to the lives of women. Because when I talk to young women my age, they talk about this issue so differently from the way in which politicians discuss it. It isn’t about Roe vs. Wade and the philosophical ways that it is discussed in Congress. It’s at the much more practical level of ‘here’s where I am; what could be the resources to make me feel that if I wanted to have this child, I would be able to do so.’”
She supports the Hyde amendment, which bans taxpayer funding of abortion. Does she think abortion should be legal or illegal in cases involving rape, incest, or life of the mother? “I understand that that’s the normal framework that people [use to] talk about those issue,” Harold demurred. “Whenever someone gives any answer like that, then their views are reduced down to those narrow categories, which I just find not to be particular helpful in terms of where you stand broadly.”
That answer might trouble the Republican social conservative base, but Harold has ties to the Christian community in the district. “There are a lot of people within the church community that have expressed a desire to be as supportive and helpful as they can,” she said. “I think the fact that I have been involved in prison ministry as long as I have is something that appeals to them. And, the fact that I have traveled around the country and shared my faith at different points in my life, when appropriate, is something else that appeals to them because I think they have a sense of where I stand as a person. And, oftentimes, that’s what gives someone comfort in saying, ‘I may not agree with you on every issue, but I have a sense that you’re trying to do the right thing for the right reasons.’”
That’s similar to the rationale Harold provides to explain why House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is the lawmaker she most admires in Congress.
“Not because I agree with all of the plans that [Ryan] puts forth, but because he does put plans forth,” Harold said. “While we know that our fundamental principles are limited government, less regulation, less taxation, we have to explain how we would govern if given the opportunity to do so again . . . I don’t agree with everything, but I really respect the fact that he does seek to lead the discussion.”