Campaigns heat up as summer starts

Photo Illustration by Tessa Pelias Tessa Pelias

Photo Illustration by Tessa Pelias Tessa Pelias

By Jon Hansen

With temperatures consistently hitting 90 degrees and late afternoon storms rolling in nearly every day, there is no doubt that summer arrived weeks ago. And for most people, the heat and humidity make November feel a long way away.

But for candidates participating in this year’s election in November, the summer push is beginning now. Labor Day traditionally marks the start of heavy campaigning across the country, but the next two and a half months may go a long way in deciding some races. The season of festivals, parades and fairs is vital to all candidates in their bid for victory at the polls.

One local race in particular is already heating up.

“The summer gives us a great opportunity to get out the name,” said Bill Cleeland, Press Secretary for Judy Myers. Myers is the Republican nominee for State Senate in the 52nd District, aiming to fill the seat now held by Rick Winkel. Winkel decided not to run for a second term.

“Our main goal is to have Judy meet as many people as possible,” Cleeland says.

Her opponent, Mike Frerichs, is taking a similar approach.

“We need to make sure the voters know the candidate as a person,” said Jacob Millner, Frerichs’ campaign manager. “One on one contact is the best vehicle to get people to vote for you in the end.”

Both Myers and Frerichs are no strangers to elections.

Myers served as State Senator in the 53rd District from 1997 to 2002 following the death of Senator Babe Woodyard. Following redistricting that combined much of her 53rd District with the 52nd District, Myers lost a close Republican Senate primary to Winkel in 2002.

Cleeland said that the Myers campaign learned an important lesson from the loss.

“This election will be close as well, and we know now how important it is to reach out to every voter,” Cleeland said. “Talk to the them about their concerns.”

Frerichs was elected Champaign County Auditor in 2002, and twice elected to serve on the Champaign County Board. He also had two unsuccessful campaigns for State Representative in 1998 and 2000.

Despite both candidates having a history of government service locally, both campaigns are heavily focusing on name recognition this summer.

“Issues come up periodically but its mainly about meeting the people,” Millner said. “Every day we have people going door to door, and Mike goes out as much as his schedule will allow.”

Cleeland says the Myers campaign will be doing much of the same.

“It will be difficult because most peoples attention don’t tune in until after labor day,” Cleeland said. “At this time, it’s all about talking to local individuals.”

Summer may not have officially started until today, but the candidates have already begun attending community events.

According to Cleeland, the Myers campaign has been hosting family fun events. The events are free and include games geared towards giving kids and parents alike the opportunity to relax and have some fun outside.

“It’s something that a candidate has to do and something she loves doing,” Cleeland said.

Millner said that Frerichs has also been busy.

“We just recently did a parade last Saturday in Sidell,” Millner said. “And of course, we have 4th of July events and a lot of community events coming up.”

But while getting out and meeting potential voters is a primary focus, candidates must also raise money. On June 30, both Myers and Frerichs must report to the state their campaign financial status. The candidates know it is an important day.

“Both campaigns have been working hard for the past few months,” Millner said. “We are focusing on fund-raising, but also on getting their name out there.”

The summer will be much different for another potential candidate in the 52nd District race. Socialist Equality Party candidate Joe Parnarauskis will be collecting signatures until June 26 in an effort to be placed on the November ballot.

Other local races are beginning to heat up as well. Congressman Tim Johnson (R) will once again square off against Dr. David Gill (D) in Illinois’ 15th congressional district. Gill collected 39 percent of the vote in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Johnson in 2004.

But according to Gill’s campaign Web site, Gill has already raised more money this year – just over $100,000 as of May 30 – than he did in the entire 2004 campaign. Rep. Johnson’s campaign numbers were not immediately available.

Many statewide elections are beginning to show signs of life as the summer arrives. The race for Governor has become particularly heated lately, as Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka’s campaign has been sending out nearly daily press releases critical of Governor Rod Blagojevich’s performance.

But locally, it appears that the summer will remain peaceful.

June 21 may be the longest day of the year in terms of sunlight, but for the candidates, the longest days are still ahead.