In a victory for gun-control advocates led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former state representative Robin Kelly won the Democratic nomination in Illinois' 2nd District special election Tuesday, defeating former congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, whose positions on guns had come under consistent attack from opponents.
The Associated Press called the race for Kelly, who led Halvorson 56 percent to 20 percent, with six in ten precincts reporting. Fourteen other Democrats competed for the nomination.
Kelly's victory makes her the overwhelming favorite to win the special general election that will be held in the spring. The 2nd District, which includes Chicago's South Side and extends southward into the suburbs, leans heavily Democratic.
"With her success tonight, Robin Kelly took one more step toward joining
the ranks of a freshman class of Members defined by unprecedented diversity
and unmatched determination to get the job done on behalf of the American
people," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in a statement. "We look forward to welcoming her to Congress and to the Democratic Caucus."
The election was triggered by the resignation of Jesse Jackson Jr., who last week admitted in court to misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of campaign funds. The special general election for Jackson's old seat will be held on April 9.
A super PAC formed by Bloomberg, one of the nation's leading gun control advocates, spent about $2.5 million to defeat Halvorson and boost Kelly, a hefty sum for a House race. Halvorson, who served one term in Congress from 2009-2011, previously received an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, which Bloomberg's PAC noted in its ad campaign against her.
"This is an important victory for common sense leadership on gun violence, a problem that plagues the whole nation," Bloomberg said in a statement Tuesday night. "And it's the latest sign that voters across the country are demanding change from their representatives in Washington -- not business as usual. As Congress considers the president's gun package, voters in Illinois have sent a clear message: we need common sense gun legislation now. Now it's up to Washington to act."
Part of the district Halvorson previously represented lies in the 2nd District, a result of the decennial redistricting process. Being a well-known white candidate in a field with many African American contenders, Halvorson looked like a front-runner at the outset of the campaign.
The many black candidates, including Kelly, would stand to split up much of black vote, the thinking went, leaving Halvorson well-positioned to win with plurality support. But Kelly's momentum, spurred by the outside spending for her and against Halvorson, prevented the former congresswoman from making a return trip to Capitol Hill.
The campaign unfolded against the backdrop of a city plagued by gun violence. Chicago hit the 500-homicide mark last year for the first time since 2008. Kelly consistently underscored her support for stricter gun control measures in the race.
Halvorson said in the campaign that she opposes a federal ban on assault-style weapons, but favors requiring universal background checks for gun purchases. Kelly, by comparison, said she supported both provisions.
A winter storm dumped snow and slush on the Chicago area Tuesday, apparently depressing turnout for an election that wasn't expected to attract many voters in the first place. Early estimates projected turnout to be less than 20 percent.
The race for the GOP nomination remained competitive late Tuesday, with a trio of candidates within five points of each other with nearly eight in ten precincts reporting.