Antigun candidate wins race in Illinois, with big assist from Bloomberg PAC (+video)

Michael Bloomberg's PAC pelted the airwaves with ads against a former congresswoman vying for the Illinois seat vacated by Jesse Jackson Jr., citing her record on guns. She lost Tuesday. The winner: an avid backer of more gun control.

By , Staff writer

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    Robin Kelly celebrates her special primary election win for Illinois's Second Congressional District, once held by Jesse Jackson Jr., Tuesday, in Matteson. After a primary campaign dominated by gun control and economic woes, voters chose Ms. Kelly over Debbie Halvorson and Anthony Beale, making her the likely replacement for Mr. Jackson, who quit his post soon after being reelected in November, under an ethics cloud.
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Score one for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his national gun-control campaign. The candidate whom his political-action committee backed for a congressional seat in Illinois – to the tune of $2 million – won the Democratic primary Tuesday, virtually assuring she will ultimately be the US representative of the heavily Democratic district.

Robin Kelly, an Illinois state representative, still faces the April 9 general election for the seat vacated by former US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D), who quit his post soon after being reelected in November, under an ethics cloud.  

Ms. Kelly won about 52 percent of the vote in a race for Illinois’s Second Congressional District, in which she was one of 16 candidates. Debbie Halvorson, a former US representative, was a distant second with about 25 percent. Anthony Beale, a Chicago alderman, in third place, received 11 percent.

Recommended: How much do you know about the Second Amendment? A quiz.

The outcome may raise the stakes in the national gun debate. Mayor Bloomberg is an ardent advocate of stricter gun laws, and he's made it known that he intends to use some of his fortune to try to counter what he sees as the National Rifle Association's outsized influence over Congress. Leading up to Tuesday's primary in the congressional special election, Bloomberg's USA PAC bought at least $2 million in ads that attacked Ms. Halvorson's record on guns. She once received an 'A' rating from the NRA and is on record as opposing President Obama's push for an assault weapons ban, which Bloomberg backs.

Gun violence is a big issue in this particular congressional district. It includes a small section of Chicago’s far South Side where the number of homicides jumped last summer and continues to surge upward, prompting many community leaders and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to call for stricter gun regulation. Kelly ran on a pledge to reduce gun violence by supporting bans on assault weapons and "concealed carry" permits and reducing the loophole for weaponry sold at gun shows.

Kelly reiterated that message in accepting the Democratic nomination late Tuesday.

“You sent a message that was heard around our state and across the nation. A message that tells the NRA that their days of holding our country hostage are coming to an end. And their days of scaring Congress to submission on gun control is coming to a close,” she told supporters.

In her concession speech, Halvorson suggested that her campaign was drowned out by the media onslaught against her waged by the Bloomberg PAC.

“We all know how rough it was for me to have to run an election against somebody who spent $2 million against me … somebody timed it that every 7-1/2 minutes there was a commercial that showed misinformation,” she said.

She also asked supporters to back Kelly in the April election. “Tonight is the night to rally around Robin. We are all Democrats,” she said.

Tweets from Bloomberg's Twitter account Tuesday night said: “Robin Kelly’s victory is an important one for common sense leadership on gun violence, a problem plaguing our nation,” and “tonight’s results are the latest sign that voters across the country demand change from their representatives.”

One factor that helped Kelly was low turnout. By midafternoon, the Chicago Board of Elections reported that turnout was at 11 percent, which included voting that morning and absentee voting. It was the lowest turnout for any area election in decades, officials said. An afternoon snowstorm, which dropped more than four inches of the white stuff in some areas, worsened prospects for a robust turnout.

Mr. Jackson resigned in November amid allegations of corruption. Last week, he and his wife, Sandi Jackson, a former Chicago alderman, pleaded guilty to federal charges involving about $750,000 in campaign funds they used for personal gain over a seven-year period. 

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