Republican candidates trying to win selection to the party's ballot spot in the 13th Congressional District are already showing polish on the stump. They've been campaigning for the favor of county party chairs at a series of public forums around the district. WGLT's Charlie Schlenker reports three of them made a strong showing during one in McLean County.
Time is running out for the people remaining in the race to make their best impressions. The weighted vote based on county turnout happens Saturday in Springfield. After that it will be a five month sprint to the November contest. The short time frame came about when incumbent Tim Johnson won the primary and then announced he would retire. Even though the public doesn't get a say in this vote, McLean County Party Chair John Parrot says the several public sessions have been important to build name recognition, create enthusiasm, and just to be inclusive.
"They feel in a situation like this that they have been short circuited by not having the opportunity to go be able to go to the polls and pick for themselves who they want to see on the ballot this fall."
Parrot even went so far as to distribute a questionnaire for the audience to let him know their thoughts. Five other County Party Chairs took in the performance. Only three of the four finalists showed up in Bloomington. Congressional Chief of Staff Jerry Clarke sent word he missed the stop, because of Army Reserve duties. There has also been push back against Clarke. A congressional campaign web site was registered with Clarke's name before Tim Johnson announced he was bowing out, creating suspicion he was trying to finagle the nomination.
The three others emphasized their strong suits. Kathy Wassink runs an occupational therapy business and has a record of activism. Wassink formed a group called The River Bend 9/12 she promised to turn into a campaign workforce.
"total four thousand people in the 13th. So there's a small army of grass roots people ready to go."
Rodney Davis of Taylorville is a 16 year staffer for Congressman John Shimkus who has worked with public officials in many counties in the new district. Davis also touts his work stabilizing state party organization finances as proof he can do difficult things.
"I made some decisions that didn't make a lot of people happy. Their operating expenses in January of last year were $900,000 a year just to turn the lights on. Just to turn em on. Guess what we cut it to. Hundred and twenty thousand dollars. That's how we got out of debt."
And Erika Harold is a Chicago lawyer raised in the 13th district, Harvard educated, African-American, young, and a former Miss America. She says those things are important in a newly drawn swing district where moving beyond the GOP base is crucial to winning.
"I want to be able to be somebody who goes out and says I don't look like the normal Republican. I may not look like the stereotype. But, the Republican Party has embraced me and will embrace you."
Harold , Davis, and Wassink are all conservative Republicans emphasizing faith, second amendment, limited government, and anti abortion values. Yet there are some differences. All three do abhor the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare and pray for its abolition by either court or congress. But, if that were to come to pass, what would they want to replace it? Rodney Davis says he would retain the current law's requirement for coverage of pre-existing conditions even though that is a government mandate that insurance companies accept risk, and a violation of basic GOP tenets against intrusion into business conditions.
"those are the things that we have to figure out how to create a market based safety net and we can do that in a much more cost effective way and then we address the real problem with healthcare in America which is the uninsured, underinsured, and underserved."
Davis also wants a replacement law to encourage use of health clinics instead of emergency rooms to lower the cost of care. Kathy Wassink likes the current law's provision that allows children in their early 20s to stay on their parents' insurance. She says many young adults today are underemployed and allowing them to stay on family plans helps. Wassink also hopes that whatever comes will include insurance portability.
"I am a business employer. I do not think that insurance should be attached to a business. Because when my employee leaves they have to go find new healthcare. Why can't we have a system where you can take that insurance with you. "
But, Erika Harold takes a strict position that the individual mandate to buy insurance violates the commerce clause.
"just saying there are parts of Obamacare that we like that we'd keep still seems to me to be letting the federal government exercise powers that the Constitution does not afford it. I do think that community health centers at the state level are really important. I think that focusing much more on preventative health measures is important."
Erika Harold says she would not rewrite the bill at all, that the proper place for such questions is in state legislatures. All three view healthcare as a key issue in November. The Democratic Candidate in the race, Bloomington Doctor David Gill has also criticized the Affordable Care Act saying it does not go far enough toward ensuring universal coverage. Gill has said he believes healthcare is a basic right. GOP candidates Erika Harold, Rodney Davis, and Kathy Wassink believe it is no such thing.
A final public forum is set this evening in Macoupin County.
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