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One Year In, Local GOP Chair Focused On Building Ground Game

Connie poses
Ryan Denham
Connie Beard took over as McLean County Republican Party chair in April 2018, becoming the first woman to hold the position.

One year into the job, the chair of the McLean County GOP says she’s focused on building up her party’s ground game to push back against newly energized Democrats.

Connie Beard took over as Republican Party chair in April 2018, becoming the first woman to hold the position. While McLean County has historically been a Republican stronghold, Beard took over at a challenging time. The McLean County Democrats—fired up by new leadership and opposition to the Trump presidency—recruited more candidates and precinct committeemen and raised more money than in recent history.

Democrats were more forceful during the 2018 campaign, most noticeably in their unsuccessful bid to unseat Republican County Clerk Kathy Michael. Weeks before the election, they alleged Michael used her county-owned computers for political purposes and tried to destroy one of them to conceal evidence of it. That matter remains under review by the Illinois Appellate Prosecutor’s Office.

Criticism and negative ads are nothing new in politics. But Beard said she saw a shift.

“The kind of rancor and aggressive negative attitude that came across was somewhat surprising,” Beard said. “We weren’t seeing it here in McLean County.”

Ultimately, most McLean County Republicans successfully fought off their Democratic challengers, including Michael and state Reps. Dan Brady and Keith Sommer. Democrats did pick up two seats on the McLean County Board, where Republicans still hold a 13-to-7 majority.

“We are resolved, engaged, excited about bringing more people under the Republican tent. I see continued interest in people that have never even thought about the Republicans before (who are) knocking on our door. And we open it wide and say come on in,” Beard said.

The McLean County Democrats currently have a fundraising advantage over the local GOP, plus more precinct committeemen slots filled. Those are foot soldiers key to winning elections. Is Beard concerned by those Democratic inroads?

“They’re challenges. I wouldn’t call them concerning,” she said.

About the 2018 election cycle: “The fact that we were able to do more with our dollar than (the Democrats) should testify to people that we’re a party that considers a dollar to be spent well and managed well and that you can get quite a bang for your buck if you’re doing it the right way,” Beard said.

Beard said she’s now focused on building up the GOP’s ground game, including volunteers, precinct committeemen, and candidates. Plans are under way to hold a series of workshops for training and equipping new Republican candidates, starting June 3.

Beard’s GOP has also been engaged in municipal elections. The April 2 election for Bloomington City Council and Normal Town Council were ostensibly nonpartisan. But the McLean County GOP urged members to support conservative candidates Donna Boelen and Don “Chip” Frank in Bloomington, and Stan Nord and incumbent Kathleen Lorenz in Normal. Only Frank lost.

“I think it’s rather disingenuous to say that municipal elections are nonpartisan,” Beard said. “In reality, people serve in their elected positions based on their political views, based on their perception of how government should serve the people. And that’s framed so much by the political party they’re aligned with.”

The McLean County GOP hosted forums for Bloomington City Council and Normal Town Council candidates before the election. Beard called them a success.

“We have no fear of ideas,” she said. “We have no fear of presenting the positions. It's one of the things that does not always happen in municipal elections. They’ve often been based on personality, based on who has the right connections, and not based on what principles you’re operating on to govern.”

The party is also focused on raising money. Its Lincoln Reagan Dinner is May 17, featuring White House chef Martin Mongiello. Connected to that event, the party is also seeking nominees for the Presidential Service Center Distinguished Service Medal. Nomination packets are available at McLeanCountyRepublicans.org.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.