Halvorson calls on Kelly to ‘come clean’ as tensions flare in 2nd District race
BY NATASHA KORECKI Political Reporter February 17, 2013 2:56PM
Robin Kelly after announcing she is running for former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s 2nd Congressional District seat. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times
Updated: March 19, 2013 6:36AM
Tensions flared in the 2nd Congressional District race on Sunday after a key candidate suddenly dropped out and threw her support behind former state Rep. Robin Kelly.
Toi Hutchinson, of Olympia Fields, bowed out of the race for Congress with just nine days to go, releasing a statement on Sunday that announced her support for Kelly.
“Robin is a friend, and has captured momentum in pulling our community together,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “I am simply unwilling to risk playing a role going forward that could result in dividing our community at [a] time when we need unity more than ever.”
The announcement brought questions from one candidate and another accused the Kelly campaign of trying to pressure candidates to “clear the field.”
“I don’t know how they got Toi out, they’ve got to come clean. Nine days left? Why would you get out?” said former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who’s also running in the special election. “This district deserves honesty and transparency, this district deserves better. This poor district has been pulled over a barrel for so long. . . . My phone has been ringing off the hook. The people who did go out on a limb for [Hutchinson] are livid.”
Ald. Anthony Beale’s spokeswoman, Delmarie Cobb, accused Kelly’s campaign of “a desperation move” — trying to pressure other candidates to clear the field — and claimed that more than $1.4 million in SuperPAC money attacking Kelly’s opponents isn’t having intended effect. Cobb said the Beale campaign got a call Saturday night asking if Beale would drop out of the race.
Kelly said she knew nothing of the call.
Kelly is a front-runner in the race, having outraised her opponents and received a steady stream of endorsements. Cobb said despite New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Independence USA SuperPAC pouring $1.4 million into attack ads in the race, ostensibly to benefit Kelly while attacking Halvorson, internal numbers show that Halvorson’s numbers are mostly holding.
“By now, Debbie should be destroyed,” Cobb said of the attack ads. “We know for a fact that the needle isn’t moving. Robin’s numbers aren’t increasing, and Debbie’s are going down very slowly.”
Cobb would not release the campaign’s internal numbers. However, she said:
“I’m just telling you, we feel fine,” Cobb said. “All the activity that’s going on in this race, is reinforcing what we believe: We are contenders in this race.”
Early voting began Feb. 11 for the 2nd District special primary election, meaning some voters already have cast a vote for Hutchinson, whose name remains on the ballot. The special primary election is Feb. 26. Hutchinson’s departure this close to the election is yet another stunning turn in the ongoing story of the 2nd Congressional District U.S. House seat. The seat is open because U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned in disgrace last November. He had coasted to re-election last year even though he had been absent from office for five months. One front-runner who aimed to replace Jackson, state Sen. Donne Trotter, quit the race after he was arrested and charged with having a gun in his luggage while traveling through O’Hare. On Friday, Jackson was federally charged with using his campaign fund to lavish himself with hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts.
A recent poll released by Kelly showed she and Halvorson in a statistical dead heat with Hutchinson coming up next. Kelly has far outraised other candidates, reporting about $400,000 in receipts last week. Halvorson has raised about $30,000, while loaning herself an additional $25,000.
Asked what she thought about her chances against Halvorson, Kelly said: “I wouldn’t be in it if I didn’t think I could win.”
Besides Halvorson and Kelly, another lead contender is 9th Ward Ald. Beale, who is expected to pull much of the city vote from the district, which stretches into Will and Kankakee counties.
Kelly has benefitted from an infusion of $1.4 million from Independence USA SuperPAC, which has barraged the campaign with attack ads against Halvorson because of the past “A” rating with the NRA. Halvorson does not a support a ban on assault weapons but is for universal background checks, a federal gun-trafficking law and other measures that she argues would do more to curb violence in the district.
The political action committee, headed by Bloomberg, endorsed Kelly on Friday and is expected to spend $2 million when all is said and done.
On Sunday, Kelly said in an interview she’s far from starting any early celebrations.
“I take nothing for granted, I am working hard, I will have my nose to the grind until 7 p.m. Feb 26. My staff is working hard, my volunteers are working hard,” Kelly said.
She said Bloomberg’s support of anti-gun candidates is rivaling the National Rifle Association, which has spent millions backing pro-gun candidates for years.
Halvorson said the TV ads unfairly attack her and misstate her position on guns. She said she hasn’t sought the NRA’s support in this election.
“I haven’t asked for their support. I’m not being supported by them,” she said. I did not fill out a questionnaire. No support, no endorsement, no nothing. You will see by the end of the day when I win, we will have been outspent 30-1.”