Harvard-educated former Miss America Erika Harold will try to become the first Republican to win election as Illinois Attorney General since Jim Ryan.
Harold held a commanding 60 percent of the vote to 40 percent for DuPage County attorney Gary Grasso, with nearly 80 percent of precincts reporting statewide and the Associated Press calling the race for the Champaign native.
Eschewing a post-primary gala, Harold had watched election returns with family members gathered around the television in a downtown Chicago hotel room. As of 8 p.m., it was just Harold and her dad sharing some time together.
Four-term incumbent Lisa Madigan’s surprise announcement that she will not seek reelection saw eight Democrats jump into the race for the open attorney general seat.
Harold and Grasso both had pledged to take on Madigan’s father, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, and tackle political corruption in the state, with Grasso angling as a party outsider and aggressive litigator.
Harold, whose downstate practice is focused on civil rights and commercial law, pointed to her African-American roots as making her better able to connect with diverse voters. A late February poll showed Harold in a virtual tie with Grasso, a DuPage County Board member, with some 60 percent of Republican voters undecided.
Harold won the Miss Illinois title in 2002, on her way to the title of Miss America — pageant victories that helped pay her Harvard Law tuition. But it was her 2000 loss in the Miss Illinois pageant that drew controversy in the late stages of the primary, with NBC reporter Mary Ann Ahern breaking a story that Harold had lost the pageant after flubbing a question in front of a panel of judges.
Harold was asked whether she would rather see a child adopted by a loving same-sex couple, or a heterosexual couple who were documented child abusers. Harold, according to anonymous sources quoted by NBC, replied that she would rather the child end up with the heterosexual couple.
Harold said she didn’t recall the question 18 years later, and said while she might have opposed same-sex adoption nearly two decades ago, today she would “strongly support same-sex adoption and same-sex foster parenting.”
Harold also had a more sympathetic role in another flashpoint moment of the primary season, when in February she outed Burt Minor, a GOP party chairman in west suburban Winfield Township for repeatedly using the “N-word”during a meeting with her October as well as asking her if she was “a lesbo.”
Harold received an early endorsement from Gov. Bruce Rauner — and a more recent campaign contribution of $350,000, about half of the total she has raised. But she may also have to show her independence from a governor who is likely to be in a nasty general election fight that potential drag on down-ticket Republicans. Harold said she would continue to focus on her core issues: stopping corruption, criminal justice reform, government transparency and opioid addiction.
“The voters want someone who will focus on issues in Illinois, a state where we have many challenges,” she said. “That’s where I will keep my focus.”