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The Composition of Kelly’s Win in the 2nd

Don Rose 4 March 2013 No Comment

The primary election for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s congressional seat—tantamount to winning the general—has attracted national attention on several counts, some of which are misleading.

As we know, former three-term State Rep. Robin Kelly, running in a field of 16, beat former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, the only white in the race, by a surprising 55-25 percent. Only Alderman Anthony Beale of Chicago’s 9th ward scored double digits.


The race was notable primarily because it centered on gun violence and the National Rifle Association, and because a super-PAC financed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pumped more than $2 million into it, airing more than 1,000 TV spots targeting Halvorson for her A+ rating from the gun group and supporting Kelly because of her record of opposition.

Progressives everywhere are justifiably celebrating Kelly’s big win and the clear rebuke to the NRA, but it is not any kind of turning point. It’s a very liberal district and generally predisposed against the NRA.

It comprises all or part of 6 Southside Chicago wards representing 35 percent of the voting population, 5 adjacent suburban Cook County townships with 55 percent and 2 outlying counties, Will and Kankakee, with 10 percent. It is 55 percent black with a substantial white liberal population, except for one Chicago ward—the 10th—and the two outlying counties.

The NRA would have lost any referendum long before Newtown and the recent upsurge of murders in Chicago. That’s really why it did not put any money into the race.

The Bloomberg money highlighted the gun issue and certainly accounted for the progressive Kelly’s wide margin, but it was not, as some commentators suggest, the main reason she won. Regular readers of this column may recall that in late January, before the Bloomberg money dump, I pegged her as the likely winner.

She previously won a statewide primary with huge margins in the district, and though she lost the general, she carried the district well. In the congressional she led in fundraising and had the most professional campaign and group of consultants—plus the backing of Chicago’s two black congressmen, the Tribune and the progressive Daily Kos blog, which brought in workers and money.

Halvorson could not have won unless there was a huge split among three leading black candidates, which was not about to happen—though the usually accurate Rachel Maddow keeps referring to Halvorson as the “odds-on favorite” with no mention of race. That’s either ignorance or an attempt to puff up the anti-NRA aspect.

My estimation is that without Bloomberg, Kelly would have won something like 35-27 percent. With it she won 58 percent in the Chicago wards and Cook suburbs, losing only the racially hostile 10th ward and both outlying counties—the exact pattern of Jackson’s earlier primary win over Halvorson.

I’m delighted Kelly won and Bloomberg is financing anti-NRA candidates; however, absent a better test case, progressives should understand that the race should not necessarily be viewed as a harbinger of things to come.

But wouldn’t it be nice to think so.

Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer
image the composition of Kelly Green

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