Kwame Raoul and Erika Harold gave voters a chance to weigh options
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The rumors had been swirling for weeks.
Kwame Raoul, once the anointed successor of former President Barack Obama on his meteoric rise to the presidency, was in trouble.
But two hours after the polls closed, Raoul’s powerhouse line-up of supporters –– including a last-minute appearance by Obama at a rally last weekend –– boosted his energy, leading to his victory.
In the final days of the campaign, Raoul’s supporters were so fretful, they quietly tried to push the tired “she’s not black enough” narrative against his opponent, Republican Erika Harold, a biracial Harvard-educated lawyer from downstate Urbana.
Ironically, the same lame attack was used against Obama when he ran, unsuccessfully, against U.S. Congressman Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., in 2000.
As is often the case in hotly-contested races, black women are the force that push a Democratic candidate to a victory.
In this campaign, they showed up in droves.
Still, Harold managed to crack the door open to this elusive voting demographic.
As one observer noted, there were black women at a polling place on the South Side who actually admitted they voted for Harold.
Raoul was seen as a shoo-in after he beat back a field of eight highly-qualified challengers in the Democratic primary.
And he out-raised Harold nearly 3-1, but he still had to take a last-ditch $1 million campaign donation from Big Daddy Michael Madigan to seal the deal.
This race was pivotal because it pitted two credible African-Americans with very different political views.
The match-up gave black voters a rare chance to consider both sides of the political debates that often swirl around them but don’t include them.
Harold, an unapologetic conservative, did not shy away from her pro-life stance to win over voters, and she aggressively corrected the record about outrageous views attributed to her regarding same-sex adoption.
She also positioned herself as a “watchdog” who would root out public corruption in government, playing to the base that she needed to stand a chance at the polls.
Most impressive, however, was Harold’s fearlessly calling out powerful men in her own party for making racist and sexist remarks about her campaign.
Raoul had already made a name for himself by championing the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois.
In fact, he was so comfortable with that name, he used his first name only on campaign slogans, ignoring that another African-American politician, Kwame Kilpatrick, the disgraced former mayor of Detroit, had already sullied it.
I don’t know how well the “Kwame!” posters played outside of the black community, but I suspect it cost him some votes in areas that vote along ethnic lines.
Raoul, the son of Haitian immigrants, didn’t cede any ground. In the final days of the campaign, he visited the Quad Cities, Belleville, Marion, Springfield and Peoria in one day.
For a novice politician going up against an establishment candidate, Harold made an impressive showing.
Because with no government experience, and a failed run for political office, the former Miss America gave the seasoned Raoul a run for his money.
And it wasn’t like Raoul didn’t have a platform.
He served as a state senator for 13 years. During that time he co-sponsored key criminal justice reform legislation.
But in this race, he chose to focus on his personal story of overcoming prostate cancer, tying it to the fight for affordable healthcare.
It was a passionate argument.
Still, the notion that he could lead the charge to protect Obama-era affordable healthcare while taking $100,000 from the tobacco industry likely gave some voters pause.
Frankly, Harold was able to convince more than a few voters that there’s something rotten in Springfield, and the stench wasn’t just coming from the governor’s mansion.
Raoul made big promises, and he will be walking into an office that has been a consistent and strong advocate for the people of Illinois.
Hopefully, he will continue that tradition.
But this spirited race is evidence that the people also want the Illinois attorney general to address the corruption that has been a part of politics in this state for far too long.