Chicago's Robin Kelly On Track To Join List Of Black Women To Serve In Congress

Once, the special election to succeed the disgraced Jesse Jackson Jr. in Illinois' 2nd District seemed impossible to handicap, especially with some two dozen or so candidates on the ballot. Thus, it became not so much a horse race discussion as a conversation dominated by concerns about race and guns. Now, according to many observers, many of the questions have given way to the sense that Tuesday's winner will be Robin Kelly, a former state representative. (We officially must wait for the general election, on April 9.)

Race became the issue when the Democratic primary election was pitting one major white candidate, former Rep. Debbie Halvorson, against a field of multiple African-American hopefuls, including Kelly. The fear among some in the black community was that Halvorson — who represented a different district for one term until her 2010 defeat and who unsuccessfully challenged Jackson in the 2012 primary — would have the advantage in a split black field. But some of leading black candidates, such as state Sens. Toi Hutchinson, Napolean Harris and Donne Trotter, withdrew and endorsed Kelly.

Collins, the longest serving black woman in the history of Congress, retired after 1996.  She died Feb. 3.

Collins, the longest serving black woman in the history of Congress, retired after 1996. She died Feb. 3. Ken Rudin collection hide caption

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As for guns, that issue may have benefited Kelly as well. Both Halvorson and Hutchinson (who before going to the state Senate was a top Halvorson aide) were the recipients of A+ ratings from the National Rifle Association. With Chicago the scene of a huge increase in gun violence (and gun-caused deaths) in recent months, the political action committee of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has come into the district with TV ads attacking Halvorson (and, when she was still in the race, Hutchinson) for their positions on guns. The ads have been effective.

Still, Tuesday's primary is no slam dunk for Kelly. Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale is waging a strong campaign as well. And Halvorson, while dramatically weakened in recent weeks, remains a strong factor.

But if Kelly wins — and that's the guess here — she will become the 30th African-American female elected to the House in the nation's history. And, as it just so happens, the entire list is here for you to peruse.

Everyone on the list is a Democrat. This is a chronologically-arranged list of every black woman elected to the House, with the year of her election, how she got to Washington and, when applicable, why she left. The list does not include non-voting delegates elected to the House.

Shirley Chisholm (N.Y.) was the first black woman elected to Congress; Barbara Jordan (Texas) was twice the Dem keynote speaker; Cynthia McKinney (Ga.) was later a Green Party prez nominee; Stephanie Tubbs Jones (Ohio) served as House ethics cmte chair and played a big role in the 2008 Clinton campaign.

Shirley Chisholm (N.Y.) was the first black woman elected to Congress; Barbara Jordan (Texas) was twice the Dem keynote speaker; Cynthia McKinney (Ga.) was later a Green Party prez nominee; Stephanie Tubbs Jones (Ohio) served as House ethics cmte chair and played a big role in the 2008 Clinton campaign. Ken Rudin collection hide caption

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1968: Shirley Chisholm (NY). Won in newly-created district. Retired in 1982.

1972: Yvonne Brathwaite Burke (CA). Won in newly-created district. Gave up seat in 1978 in an unsuccessful bid for state attorney general.

Barbara Jordan (TX). Won in newly-created district. Retired in 1978.

1973: Cardiss Collins (IL). Won special election to succeed her late husband, Rep. George Collins (D). Retired in 1996.

1982: Katie Hall (IN). Won special election following the death of Rep. Adam Benjamin (D). Lost bid for renomination in the 1984 Democratic primary to Peter Visclosky, who won the seat and still serves.

1990: Barbara-Rose Collins (MI). Won open seat being vacated by Rep. George Crockett. Lost bid for renomination in the 1996 Democratic primary to Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, also an African American, who won the seat.

Maxine Waters (CA). Won open seat vacated by Rep. Gus Hawkins (D). Still serves.

1992: Corrine Brown (FL). Won in newly-created district. Still serves.

Eva Clayton (NC). Won special election following the death of Rep. Walter Jones (D) in redrawn district. Retired in 2002.

Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX). Won in newly-created district. Still serves.

Cynthia McKinney (GA). Won in newly created district. Lost bid for renomination in the 2002 Democratic primary to Denise Majette, another African American, who won the seat. When Majette ran for the Senate in 2004, McKinney won back her old seat. Lost bid for renomination in the 2006 Democratic primary to Hank Johnson, another African American, who won the seat and who still serves.

Carrie Meek (FL). Won in newly created district. Retired in 2002.

1994: Sheila Jackson Lee (TX). Unseated Rep. Craig Washington (D), another African American, in Democratic primary. Still serves.

1996: Juanita Millender-McDonald (CA). Won special election in March 1996 following resignation of Rep. Walter Tucker (D). Died in office April 2007.

Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (MI). Unseated Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins (D), another African American, in Democratic primary. Lost bid for renomination in the 2010 Democratic primary to Hansen Clarke, also an African American, who won the seat.

Julia Carson (IN). Won open seat vacated by Rep. Andy Jacobs (D). Died in office December 2007.

1998: Barbara Lee (CA). Won special election in April 1998 following resignation of Rep. Ron Dellums (D). Still serves.

Stephanie Tubbs Jones (OH). Won open seat vacated by Rep. Louis Stokes (D). Died in office August 2008.

2001: Diane Watson (CA). Won special election following death of Rep. Julian Dixon (D). Retired in 2010.

2002: Denise Majette (GA). Unseated Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D), another African American, in Democratic primary. Vacated seat in 2004 to run for the Senate.

2004: Gwen Moore (D-WI). Won open seat vacated by Rep. Gerald Kleczka (D). Still serves.

2006: Yvette Clarke (NY). Won open seat vacated by Rep. Major Owens (D). Still serves.

2007: Laura Richardson (CA). Won special election following death of Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald. Lost bid for re-election in 2012 to fellow Rep. Janice Hahn (D).

2008: Donna Edwards (MD). Unseated Rep. Albert Wynn, another African American, in Democratic primary. Still serves.

Marcia Fudge (OH). Won special election following death of Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D). Still serves.

2010: Terri Sewell (AL). Won open seat vacated by Rep. Artur Davis (D), who ran for governor. Still serves.

Karen Bass (CA). Won open seat vacated by Rep. Diane Watson (D). Still serves.

Frederica Wilson (FL). Won open seat vacated by Rep. Kendrick Meek (D), who ran for Senate. Still serves.

2012: Joyce Beatty (OH). Won in newly-created district. Still serves.

Massachusetts Senate special. Call this Safe Democratic. The election to fill John Kerry's Senate seat — now temporarily held by Mo Cowan — looks like will be determined in the April 30 Democratic primary between Reps. Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch (general election: June 25). With no Republican of note having joined the race, the GOP primary will be between former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez and state Rep. Dan Winslow, assuming they will be able to get the 10,000 required ballot signatures by Feb. 27. The guess here is that Markey will be the next senator. And there is this reader's question:

Q: Regardless of whether you're a big Ed Markey fan or not — I happen to be one — I think all these questions about his residence is much ado about nothing. What's your take? — Roberta Saunders, Springfield, Mass.

A: I tend to agree with you, though people are clearly talking about it. Here's the story: Markey, who has been in Washington some 36 years — having first won his House seat in 1976 — owns a million dollar-plus home in Chevy Chase, Md. with his wife, Susan Blumenthal, a health expert who also works in D.C. In 2001, after his father died, Markey bought the Malden, Mass. home where he grew up, and he uses it as his official place of residence. Does he live in it most or a huge chunk of the year? He does not. Are his water bills, for example, much smaller than those of his other Malden neighbors? Yes, without a doubt.

But this is not Dick Lugar redux. Lugar, an Indiana Republican senator also first elected in 1976, was defeated for renomination in the 2012 primary for an assortment of reasons, one perhaps most potent the fact that he didn't even own a home back in Hoosierville. He sold his Indiana home in '77, even though he continued to use it as his voting address. And when he would go back home to campaign or do official Senate duties, he would stay at an Indianapolis hotel. Richard Mourdock hammered that fact home in last year's primary, effectively portraying Lugar as out of touch and "not one of us."

(And it's certainly nothing like the situation Bob Kerrey faced in 2012 when he was returning to Nebraska in an attempt to reclaim his Senate seat after living in Greenwich Village for a dozen years while head of New School University in NYC. He first listed his sister's home in Omaha as his residence, then the guest house on a friend's Nebraska property. The smart thing would have been to already have a residence before announcing a candidacy.)

Whatever the size and cost of his Chevy Chase home, Markey stays involved in issues back in Mass., and when he goes home he stays in his Malden house. When his GOP opponents in 2010 and 1994 brought up questions of residency, there wasn't much of an impact; Markey won those years with 66 and 64 percent of the vote respectively.

Scott Brown, had he intended to run again for the Senate, was planning to use Markey's residency questions as a major issue. Lynch, whose wife lives in their south Boston home, has given no indication he is planning to use this in the special Senate race.

Q: Do you agree that John Kerry's move from the Senate to State makes him (potentially) a top tier contender for 2016? — Gary Nielsen, Tampa, Fla.

A: I do not. I think Kerry's days as a candidate are over.

From Senate to Sec/State. Here is a list of those incumbent senators who became secretary of state in the past century:

John Kerry (D-Mass.) — 2013 -

Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) — 2009-13

Ed Muskie (D-Me.) — 1980-81

Cordell Hull (D-Tenn.) — 1933-44

Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week — some serious, some not — on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin.

Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions and sparkling jokes. Last week's show featured Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who talked about his party's prospects in the House in 2014; and Chicago consultant Don Rose, who talked about the fall of ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and what's next for Illinois' 2nd CD. You can listen to the segment here:

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Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," up every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner in crime, Ron Elving, and me.

Feb. 20 Junkie segment on TOTN

And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can usually be found in this spot every Monday or Tuesday. A randomly selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. You still have time to submit your answer to last week's contest, which you can see here. Sure, there's incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets not only a Political Junkie T-shirt but also a 3-1/2-inch Official No-Prize Button! Is this a great country or what??

ON THE CALENDAR:

Feb. 26 — Expected Senate vote for confirmation of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense. Also: Special primary in Illinois' 2nd CD to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. (D), who resigned. (General election: April 9)

March 19 — Special primary in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District to replace Tim Scott (R), who was appointed to the Senate.

April 2 — Runoff in S.C. 01. (General election: May 7.)

April 30 — Special Massachusetts Senate primary.

June 4 — Special election in Missouri's 8th CD to replace Jo Ann Emerson (R), who resigned.

June 25 — Special Senate election in Massachusetts to replace John Kerry, who is now secretary of state.

Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at politicaljunkie@npr.org.

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********

Willkie McNary
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This day in political history: Oregon Republican Charles McNary, the Senate Minority Leader and the GOP's vice presidential nominee running with Wendell Willkie in 1940, dies at age 69, several weeks after undergoing a brain operation (Feb. 25, 1944). Less than eight months later, on Oct. 8, Willkie himself will die of coronary thrombosis. Thus, the 1940 Republican presidential ticket of Willkie and McNary does not survive the four years following the election.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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