Ex-State Rep. Likely To Replace Jesse Jackson Jr.

Former Illinois legislator Robin Kelly has captured the Democratic nomination in the race to replace disgraced former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. She is all but assured a win in April's general election because the Chicago-area district is overwhelmingly Democratic.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In Chicago, voters are closing the book on the Jesse Jackson, Jr. scandal. Yesterday, they elected a Democratic nominee who will likely succeed Jackson in Congress. She is Robin Kelly, a former state representative and a strong supporter of gun control. As NPR's David Schaper reports from Chicago, Kelly's campaign got a $2 million boost from the superPAC of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Stepping out of a church hall that doubles as a polling place on Chicago's slushy South Side, 22-year-old Andrea Brown says there's one issue that stands above all others in this special congressional primary election: the rise in gun violence that is terrorizing the city.

ANDREA BROWN: Yes, I did take that into consideration, because we have too many guns out there. We really do. And they're not doing enough about it.

SCHAPER: Likewise, 66-year-old receptionist Patricia Bradbury says she wants Congress to help get guns off the streets of this and other neighborhoods in Chicago that are suffering from a rise in gun homicides. So she says she voted for former Illinois State Representative Robin Kelly.

PATRICIA BRADBURY: With the amount of crime that we have, I think it's extremely important, very important that we have somebody in there who fights for gun control.

SCHAPER: Forty-six-year-old Sharita Thornton, who works for the Chicago Transit Authority, also voted for Kelly for the same reason. But she admits it took a barrage of TV ads and mailings to help her make up her mind.

SHARITA THORNTON: Yes, it did. Because I would have never known about her had I not received an ad in the mail.

SCHAPER: And most of those ads and mailings came not from Robin Kelly's campaign, but from the gun control superPAC of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His Independence USA superPAC spent more than $2 million, not only backing Kelly, but also to attack her chief rival in the race, former South Suburban Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Gun violence - it's out of control. Debbie Halvorson will make it worse. Halvorson opposes a ban on deadly assault weapons.

SCHAPER: Bloomberg's millions dwarfed the resources of Halvorson, who raised only about $100,000 for the campaign, and only one other in the crowded Democratic field of more than a dozen candidates was able to raise enough money to get on TV. In a short campaign following the abrupt resignation of Jesse Jackson, Jr. in late November, the Bloomberg superPAC support helped Kelly stand out. His spending even chased a few early favorites out of the field altogether. In a statement, Bloomberg says Kelly's is an important victory for commonsense leadership on gun violence, and that voters are sending a clear message that we need commonsense gun legislation now.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Robin, Robin, Robin.

SCHAPER: It's a theme Robin Kelly echoed in a south suburban banquet hall packed with supporters as she thanked Illinois's 2nd congressional district voters.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ROBIN KELLY: 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.

SCHAPER: In her victory speech, Kelly did not thank Bloomberg, and afterwards explained why.

KELLY: I don't know him. I didn't ask him to spend the money. That was on him to do that. I had nothing to do with it.

SCHAPER: And Robin Kelly insists she would have won this Democratic primary without Bloomberg's support. She has other elected officials behind her and connections to the White House , as her campaign chair is a close friend of the Obamas. So she is expected to easily win the general election April 9th in this overwhelmingly Democratic district. But some can't help but note how odd it is that in Chicago, a city known for boss mayors who, for decades, not only controlled local elections, but influenced even the White House, that it's now New York mayor helping carry the day in a Chicago congressional race. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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