A multimillion-dollar ad blitz by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to stop an NRA-backed House candidate in Illinois paid off Tuesday night, as local official Robin Kelly crushed more than a dozen Democratic candidates vying to replace disgraced former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
Bloomberg and gun control proponents seized on the results as evidence of momentum in their push to enact President Barack Obama's gun control package. The mayor will take that message to Washington Wednesday in meetings with Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), according to Bloomberg's public schedule.
Bloomberg's visit coincides with a hearing the Senate Judiciary is slated to hold Wednesday on a proposal to ban assault weapons.
With 72 percent of precincts reporting in the Democratic primary, Kelly, the Cook County chief administrative officer and a former state representative, held a 53 percent to 24 percent lead over Debbie Halvorson, a former congresswoman. Anthony Beale, a Chicago alderman, had 10 percent.
The outcome marked a major win for Bloomberg, who spent around $2.3 million attacking Halvorson for her pro-gun views and propping up Kelly. The ad blitz swamped the underfunded ex-congresswoman and prompted her to brand him as an out-of-town billionaire trying to buy a House seat.
In the wake of the tragic Newtown, Conn. shootings, and with Chicago's violent streets as its backdrop, the race emerged as a referendum on the national debate over gun control. Bloomberg has used his wealth to sway House races before: in 2012, he spent more than $3 million to sink a pro-gun Democrat, Rep. Joe Baca. And his group, Independence USA PAC, spent more than $14 million in races across the country.
His Tuesday win signals that Bloomberg is ready to play another outsize role in 2014, targeting gun-supporting candidates.
"This is an important victory for common sense leadership on gun violence, a problem that plagues the whole nation," Bloomberg, who has emerged as the face of the national movement for stricter gun laws, said in a statement. "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."
Liberal groups hailed the result as a defeat for the NRA. Democracy for America called it "a withering blow to the NRA and others who think we shouldn't do anything to prevent the gun violence that took the lives of 20 children in Connecticut in December and ravages the streets of cities like Chicago every single day."
The liberal Super PAC CREDO trumpeted, "Debbie Halvorson didn't just lose. She was crushed at the polls by voters who want the NRA to get out of the way while Congress addresses gun violence."
How much of a referendum on gun control the election was is debatable, though. The NRA endorsed Halvorson but did little advertising on her behalf. During the final week of the race, the group sent out a batch of mailers on her behalf.
It was also a victory for Chicago's black political establishment, which threw its weight behind Kelly. There had been widespread concern in Chicago's African-American community that Halvorson, the only white candidate in the race, would emerge with a small plurality of the vote.
But in recent weeks, Kelly united the support of the black community, winning endorsements from Reps. Bobby Rush and Danny Davis and state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, who had been a top contender in the contest until she withdrew earlier this month.
Kelly is expected to easily hold the seat in the March 19 general election. The 2nd Congressional District heavily favors Democrats, and there is only minimal Republican opposition.
Jackson, who had been plagued by an ethics inquiry, vacated the seat in December. Earlier this month, Jackson and his wife pleaded guilty to federal charges that he used his campaign account to pay for private expenses. He is expected to be sentenced later this year.
Kelly focused her get-out-the vote efforts in Chicago's South Suburbs, which she represented for four years in the state legislature. Her advisers were hoping for high turnout in Thornton Township and Richton Park, where she resides.
Halvorson, meanwhile, banked on support from the more conservative rural areas of the district, Will and Kankakee counties. Halvorson received a late boost from the NRA, which sent out mailers to voters in those areas on her behalf.
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