Andrea Zinga is disappointed that she’ll never know if she could have beaten Congressman Lane Evans. On her second try, she thinks she could have.
However, she does relish in the fact that she did beat him in one contest. In a recent area newspaper popularity poll to determine the district’s favorite politician, Zinga says -- with a smile -- that she came in third and Evans followed with an honorable mention.
But that’s all history now. After weeks of speculation and consternation among Democrats in Illinois’ 17th U.S. Congressional District, Republican candidate Andrea Zinga knows that she is facing a tough campaign to replace the ailing Evans, who has chosen not to run again.
(Andrea Zinga (left) pictured at a recent gathering in Oak Brook with Republican National Commiteewoman Mary Jo Arndt (right))
The eventual winner of the Democratic scramble to become the party’s nominee after Evans’ announcement is Evans’ own COS, Phil Hare -- a noted, battle-hardened Democratic insider.
With the retirement of Evans, the emerging Zinga-Hare race may move up the priority list as a possible Republican Congressional gain in a very intense battle to retain the Republican majority in Congress.
But all the potential of gaining notoriety may be up to Zinga’s ability to convince D.C. strategists and consultants that the 17th CD is ready for change. And readying the district for change will take aggressive fundraising, news-making and headline-grabbing.
That shouldn’t be too difficult for a veteran news reporter like Zinga.
The transition from reporting the news to making it has been natural for Zinga. An Emmy-award winning CNN correspondent, her second bid to replace Congressman Lane Evans continues her 35-year career of talking to people and hearing their concerns, something reporters do every day.
“I had an experienced congressional staffer tell me that what matters in politics is being a good listener and a good communicator,” the 56 year old Macomb native said. “That’s what I’ve been doing all my years as a journalist.”
Running for Congress takes her expertise to a new level, she says. To her, it is part of “giving back,” and being able to not just report on events, but influence what happens.
Zinga said that after working in seven different states over the years, returning to her hometown and observing the drastic changes to her rural community concerned her, especially when a major industrial plant shut its doors in October 2003.
“I suppose what really pushed me to make the transition into politics from journalism was the closing of the Galesburg Maytag plant,” Zinga said. “I interviewed people, saw how the closing was affecting their lives and became concerned that there seemed to be no area vision for adapting to society’s changes.”
That’s when her thoughts moved from observing area problems into proposing solutions, and she naturally moved into politics.
Zinga said no one asked her to run for her first time in 2004 against Congressman Evans, but her closest friends weren’t surprised when she bounced the idea off them. “ ‘You’ve been talking about this for years,’ they told me,” she said. “ I didn’t realize I had, but I guess they were right. I tend to just jump in and do what needs to be done.”
In 2006, Zinga’s bid for the GOP nomination wasn’t so easy. She had to fight in a three-way primary, which she says pointed out the importance of grassroots activism as what it takes to win. It took knocking on doors in rural Macoupin County the Sunday before.
“I agreed with one of our consultants Mark Johnson, who pushed grassroots. I’ve always believed in grassroots. And it really worked in the primary,” she said. “People have to know you, know what you’re about, and have seen your face and shaken your hand, because, by golly, if you won’t visit the district as a candidate, why would you as a congressman?”
She won on March 17 by six points.
Knocking on doors isn’t practical normally in large area congressional districts, but in small towns like those in the 17th CD, it is particularly effective. “First, you shock the people who answer their doors and secondly, word spreads like wildfire that you’re in town and want to hear what they have to say.”
Zinga expects the General Election campaign to be another bruising battle. Her opponent Phil Hare is known for his no-holds-barred approach to winning and has been accused of playing dirty politics in the past.
But Zinga says she thrives on challenges. One reason she’s in this race now is because her husband Chuck said the wrong thing to her. “No one’s going to beat Lane Evans,” he told her in 2004.
“Now that’s not something you want to say to a person like me,” she said. “I’m going to give this all that I’ve got. . .”
Part II of IR’s IN FOCUS interview with Andrea Zinga will discuss her views on issues of the War in Iraq and terrorism, on gun control, immigration, abortion and gay marriage. We’ll even get some insight into what Andrea’s husband Chuck has to say about living with a candidate for U.S. Congress. . . stay tuned.