Catalina Camia, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Illinois Democrats sent a message Tuesday night about guns and the power of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as they nominated Robin Kelly in a special election primary for Congress.
Kelly, a former state representative, supports an assault weapons ban. She is now heavily favored in the race to replace Democrat Jesse Jackson Jr. in the Chicago-based district.
Jackson, who resigned shortly after the 2012 election, pleaded guilty in federal court last week to misusing $750,000 in campaign funds and awaits sentencing.
Bloomberg, an independent and strong gun-control advocate, spent more than $2.1 million in campaign ads to benefit Kelly, who was one of 17 Democrats vying for the nomination. The spending came through his Independence USA super PAC, which began targeting pro-gun lawmakers in the 2012 elections.
The Illinois ads were aimed at Democrat Debbie Halvorson, a former one-term congresswoman, who received an "A" rating in the past from the National Rifle Association.
"This is an important victory for common-sense leadership on gun violence, a problem that plagues the whole nation," Bloomberg 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."
After the votes were counted, Halvorson decried the onslaught of ads. She told the Chicago Tribune that it was "rough," and noted ads against her were seen on television "every seven and a half minutes." Before the primary, Halvorson said she supported "common-sense legislation," such as universal background checks, but opposed banning specific firearms.
The primary vote comes on the eve of a Senate hearing on an assault weapons ban, a key component of President Obama's proposals to reduce gun violence. Obama is also asking Congress to enact a universal background check on people who buy guns and limit the ammunition in magazine clips.
"Voters in Illinois have sent a clear message: We need common-sense gun legislation," Bloomberg said.
The Illinois congressional race is the first high-profile race since December's mass shooting at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Conn. Twenty children and six adults died in that rampage.
Because of the district's overwhelming Democratic tilt, Kelly is considered the favorite to win in the general election April 9. There were five Republicans seeking the GOP nomination.
Kelly's campaign is chaired by Cheryl Whitaker, whose husband, Eric, is a good friend and golfing buddy of Obama.