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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Campaign Trail Story from the Dispatch

From the Dispatch

by Kurt Allemeier

MONMOUTH -- As Andrea Zinga walks down Monmouth's Main Street, a woman rushes out of a store to shake her hand.

She wants to meet her and tell Ms. Zinga the good news: "I've already voted for you."

Ms. Zinga, the Republican candidate for the 17th Congressional District seat, thanks her. She has been warmly received by small business owners during several stops in the downtown. She chats with a man working on a door, who also says he will vote for her.

Ms. Zinga has been on the campaign trail since 2004, when she lost to U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, and moves like it -- purposeful and determined, shaking hands and asking how she can help.

Rep. Evans, D-Rock Island, announced his retirement in March. She faces Democrat Phil Hare, a long-time staffer for the congressman, in Tuesday's election.

"I think people are looking at moving in a new direction," she says during a short break. "People have thanked me for running again.

"I believe people will change when they are ready to change," Ms. Zinga says. "I'm surprised how much I hear it is a time for a change. It is more powerful to hear it from people and not from the candidate."

This campaign has more energy than her 2004 run. She says people were "polite to enthusiastic" about her 2004 candidacy, and now are "enthusiastic to darn determined." She measures the campaign's energy level by the increased number of visitors to the campaign headquarters and more supportive letters to the editors in newspapers throughout the district.

The former television news anchor used a grassroots effort to win a tight primary race. She continues to utilize volunteers going door-to-door on her behalf.

After spending some time in Monmouth's business district, she heads to Galesburg to knock on doors, then to a fish fry in Canton. In Monmouth, she gets questions and input at each stop. One businessman asked about funding to widen U.S. 34. She says expanding the road would be helpful for farmers, manufacturing and Illinois' burgeoning ethanol industry.

"It is something I would work for because it is important for economic development," Ms. Zinga says.

When asked about the campaign at another stop, she replies "there is an undercurrent of excitement."

Another businessman tells her the tax cuts implemented by President George W. Bush have helped him and allowed him to re-invest in his business.

"I'm glad those tax cuts are working for you," Ms. Zinga says. She wants to make them permanent.

She is close to being late for another appointment and speeds off her in bright yellow campaign vehicle. She arrives close to on-time at the Northwestern Illinois Agricultural Research and Demonstration Center outside Monmouth. She jumps out ready to shake hands.

The day thus far has been a good mix for Ms. Zinga. "I feel very strongly about agriculture and small business," she says.

Standing next to bags of soybean seed, she talks briefly with supporters and gets a quick tour of the research farm, but first takes time to reflect on the campaign.

"What I'm not good at, is people tell me I'm too honest or not slick enough," she says. "I've learned to appreciate my strengths and feel more confident in them. The people around you will let you know what your weaknesses are."

Campaigning "is a cleansing experience. Everyone should try it once," she says.

She has put her heart into running for Congress, in trying to be a voice for the 17th District, and knows what is most important.

"I've learned since 2004," she says, "... that I would be good at this."

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