The McLean County Democrats picked Erik Rankin as their next party chair on Wednesday night, hoping to ride his campaign experience to victory in November and beyond.
Rankin has served on the McLean County Board since 2008. He did not seek re-election in November so he could run for party chair. He’ll succeed John Penn, a labor leader who’s been chair of the McLean County Democratic Party for 34 years but decided not to seek another term.
Rankin was chosen Wednesday by elected Democratic precinct committeemen for a two-year term. He won with 72 percent of the vote over Patrick Cortesi, a leader of the local grassroots group Indivisible. A third candidate, longtime party co-chair Dorothy Deany, dropped out of the race earlier Wednesday, Rankin said. She was elected vice chair instead.
“I’m humbled. These are some big shoes to fill,” Rankin told GLT, referring to Penn. “The precinct committeepeople for the Democratic Party are hungry and ready to work, and I’m looking forward to ushering in this big blue wave coming this fall.”
Kay Moss was chosen as secretary, and Matt Watchinski as treasurer. Rankin said he’ll meet soon with the party's new executive committee, put together a calendar, and build a committee structure.
“We want to get the party up and functioning in a way that fits the new administration’s vision,” he said.
Rankin, 41, touted his own campaign experience in his run for chair, saying he gives Democrats the best chance to win local elections. He represents McLean County Board District 9, which includes parts of southwest and southeast Bloomington. District 9’s other board member is a Republican.
Rankin is an undergraduate student advisor and assistant to the chair at Illinois State University's Department of Politics and Government. He earned a master’s degree in political campaign management from George Washington University.
Rankin steps into his new role at a key moment. Local Democrats are energized in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election, with many more candidates—particularly first-time women candidates—on the ballot in November. Democrats are hoping to unseat Republicans who’ve long held an electoral grip in the traditionally red McLean County. (Trump won the county overall in 2016, though Democrat Hillary Clinton won Bloomington-Normal.)
Rankin will also have address factions within the Democratic Party. Penn’s leadership was deeply intertwined with unions, which provide financial and logistical support for the party. Cortesi represents a growing number of new progressive faces within the party. Rankin will have to keep both factions engaged going into November and beyond.
“(Patrick Cortesi) is a great Democrat,” Rankin said. “We will certainly find ways to engage Patrick in the party. We’d be worse off if Patrick isn’t a big part of what we’re looking to do in the future.”
Rankin will also have to raise money. Local Democrats have also traditionally lagged Republicans in fundraising. More Democrats on the ballot makes that need for money even greater.
Republicans and Libertarians
Meanwhile, Connie Beard was unanimously elected the new chair of the McLean County Republican Party on Wednesday night. She was uncontested. She’ll succeed Chuck Erickson, who is not seeking another term as chair.
Beard said she plans to change meeting formats and design new outreach efforts to voters in the county.
“Spreading an understanding of Republican principles through persuasive, reasoned discourse is a key to winning hearts and votes in November,” Beard said. “We are the party that understands the economic stress our state is under and consider it imperative that a Republican majority is in the state house and our county board to stop the loss of jobs and increased taxation.”
Also elected by the GOP were Norma Brown (vice chair), Andrew Kubik (secretary), and Lyndsay Bloomfield (treasurer).
The McLean County Libertarian Party elected Steve Suess as its new chair, succeeding Bennett Morris, who is running for chair of the statewide party. Also elected were Richard Bennett (vice chair), Henry Wissmiller (secretary), and Lex Green (treasurer).
“I’m excited to continue the momentum of my predecessor,” Suess said Wednesday. “As the only county in Illinois where the Libertarian Party has established party status, it’s important that we continue to lead the way and set the tone for the rest of the state.”
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