Erika Harold: Miss America 2003 Running For Congress, But Can She Win?

Erika Harold, 2003’s Miss America winner, has tossed her crown aside to announce a primary challenge to freshmen Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.). While her Harvard Law degree and ambitious resume speak highly of her ability to be more than a pretty face, I’m not sure the Republican Party will ever let her be more than that. 

On face, Harold seems like the perfect person to burst on to the GOP scene. She’s young, she’s black, she’s … a she  — but even in recognizing that women need to be better accommodated by the Republican Party, our friends in red have done next to nothing to advance women in their own ranks. 

For instance, of the 14 Republican leadership positions available between the House and the Senate, only four belong to women. And while the November election helped women gain their highest numbers ever in the senate, only four women out of the 20 are Republican.

Republican women have always fallen victim to stigmas of “pretty faces.” Of The Hill’s 2012 list for the “50 Most Beautiful People on the Hill,” amongst a wash of beefy legislative aids and blond research assistants, Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) are the only female representatives on the list and they are all Republican.

Women in politics face ridiculous problems in general. How many times have you heard a man criticized for wearing the wrong suit or showing up with his hair looking ruffled? But I bet you can name dozens of articles that you’ve read that solely address the wardrobe or appearance of female politicians. And, in my opinion, Republicans are even worse off than Democrats. How, for instance, did people like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann make so much noise while other Republican female representatives fly so far under the radar? 

All of this makes me wonder where Harold will fit into this mess. Will her campaign be about her title? She’s already mentioned it in her campaign video. Or will she be able to burst through the copious amounts of available pictures of her donning bikinis and low cut ball gowns and make a name for herself in a party that has made it a habit of cutting down women, or at least ignoring their ideas in favor of asking them about their shoes. 

What I’d really like to know is this: Where are all the strong, non-50-Most-Beautiful types in the Republican Party? Why aren’t they turning heads for their policies and their ideas? Why do men whose appearance is the last thing you’d find striking find themselves atop the Republican Party again and again? And why do none of the articles mention Harold’s platform and make more fuss over her tiara than the fact that she was a delegate to the 2004 Republican National Convention?

It will be interesting to see if Harold can turn this campaign into more than just a pageant-style Q&A about her fashion choices and how she handles being a woman on the campaign trail. If she can, it will spell more for women in politics than she might realize. If, instead, she has to rely on relics from her days as Miss America 2003, well, then that might make it even worse for the many young women who aspire to be their district’s next representative.

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Jessica Huseman

Jessica wrote for Mic.com until Feb. 2014. Now she's an investigative reporter at The Teacher Project, writing articles on K12 education for Slate.com. Her work has appeared in ProPublica, The Atlantic, Slate, The Dallas Morning News and Chalkbeat and more. Find her contact info and her recent work at www.jessicalhuseman.com.

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