Robin Kelly celebrates her special primary election win for Illinois' 2nd Congressional District. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Robin Kelly, who as a young state representative sponsored gun-safety legislation with state Senator Barack Obama, swept to victory Tuesday night in an Illinois US House primary that sent a powerful signal about the National Rifle Association’s dwindling influence within the Democratic Party.
Kelly won 58 percent of the vote in a crowded field, easily defeating former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson and other Democrats to win the nomination to replace former Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., as the representative from Illinois’s 2nd district.
In a multiracial district that includes parts of Chicago, as well as suburbs and rural regions of a district that stretches across northeastern Illinois, Halvorson began the race as the front runner. In addition to her status as a former House member, she was the only white candidate in a field where the African-American vote was divided among more than a dozen contenders.
After the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings focused the attention of the country—and Illinois—on the gun debate, however, Kelly made support for gun-safety legislation central to her campaign.
Kelly’s “Help Me Fight Gun Violence” message united African-American and progressive white voters against Halvorson, who had accepted NRA support in previous races and who continued to support NRA positions on many issues.
Though President Obama, who has made te fight for gun-safety legislation a priority of his second term, stayed out of the race, Kelly promised to champion legislation backed by the president—who her ads noted she had worked with a decade ago, when they both served in the Illinois legislature.
As she claimed victory Tuesday night, Kelly told her backers, “Today you did more than cast a vote. You did more than choose a Democratic candidate for Congress…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.”
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has pledged to fight the NRA’s political influence nationwide, used his Independence USA political action committee to air more than $2 million to oppose Halvorson and back Kelly.
The Illinois Rifle Association, an NRA affiliate, backed Halvorson with late-stage mailings.