Over the weekend, Kathleen Geier previewed the special Democratic primary in Illinois to replace U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., noting that it had become something of a referendum on gun issues. Sometimes “nationalization” of political contests is an optical illusion imposed by media types, but in this case it was real, since one major candidate, former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, was endorsed by the NRA, while another, former state Rep. Robin Kelly, received heavy material backing from Michael Bloomberg’s Independent USA PAC.
As Kathleen mentioned, the very large candidate field (17 in all), the low turnout always expected in a winter special election in the midwest, and perhaps racial dynamics (Kelly was one of two viable African-American candidates; Halvorson is white and had previously represented a chunk of the district in Congress), made anti-gun activists nervous about the outcome. Turns out it wasn’t close: Kelly beat Halvorson by better than a two-to-one margin, and won an outright majority of the vote. She’ll face a Republican nominee on April 9, but in this heavily Democratic district, that’s just a formality.
As gun legislation lives or dies in this Congress, we can expect Kelly to become the rare symbol of a politician who thrived by taking on the NRA. And for Bloomberg, the $2.2 million his PAC spent on this special election could turn out to be one of his better investments.