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Despite candidates dropping out, voters still have lots of choices Tuesday for Jackson Jr. successor

RobKelly announced Mr. Benny's Steak   Lobster House MattesIllinois thshe is running for Jesse JacksJr.'s 2nd Congressional District sefrom

Robin Kelly announced at Mr. Benny's Steak & Lobster House in Matteson, Illinois, that she is running for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s 2nd Congressional District seat from which he resigned. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: March 25, 2013 6:51AM

Having been put through the wringer in the last few months as their former congressman admitted to federal charges, constituents of the 2nd Congressional District may finally have some good news.

On Tuesday, the South Side and South suburban district will vote to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. — and they will have a wide field from which to choose.

In all, 15 Democrats are vying for the seat in the special primary election. There is a Republican primary as well, however, the winner of the Democratic primary is almost certain to win a general election in this overwhelmingly Democratic South Side and suburban district.

The race in this special election was nearly as colorful as the congressional district’s storied history of troubled representation. Jackson is just the latest in a string of scandal-plagued politicians to represent the district. He pleaded guilty Wednesday to corruption charges.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s SuperPac dropped more than $2 million to attack candidate Debbie Halvorson and her stance against an assault weapons ban, turning the contest into a bellwether for the gun debate raging nationally.

One of the early front-runners, state Sen. Donne Trotter, dropped out of the race after he was arrested on a felony charge of having a gun in his luggage while traveling through O’Hare Airport. Former NFL player Napoleon Harris, who threw his hat in the ring before he was even sworn in as a state senator, was gaining momentum but then he too dropped out.

Another top tier candidate, state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, just dropped out nine days before the race after fighting bitterly for the top spot.

The three front runners who emerged — and survived — are 9th ward Ald. Anthony Beale, Halvorson, a former U.S. representative, and former state representative Robin Kelly. Kelly is the momentum candidate, notching endorsements from other congressmen and benefitting from Bloomberg’s spending — as well as an endorsement.

Her opponents, including Joyce Washington, have worked to turn that on its head, telling Bloomberg to get out of the race. Halvorson accused Bloomberg of trying to “buy” the election.

Kelly began getting criticism that she was coordinating with Independence USA, Bloomberg’s political action committee.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said at a recent forum. “I have nothing to do with what he’s doing, I never did. So whatever people are saying is untrue and ridiculous. I don’t know the man.”

Kelly’s momentum in largely due to her seizing on the gun issue, realizing that Hutchinson and Halvorson held high NRA ratings.

But Beale counters that he has shown a longer history of working to reduce violence in his South Side ward. Beale owns weapons, which he says he uses as protection and for hunting, but he opposes military-style rifles and high capacity magazines. Beale has asked that Bloomberg get out of the race but at the same time questioned why Bloomberg chose to back Kelly over him when she has not worked as a publicly elected official for 10 years.

Halvorson, meanwhile, likes to point out that she was the only person with “the courage” to make a run against Jesse Jackson Jr. in last year’s primary. “Our district is still in dire need of strong and credible representation.”

Jackson won with 70 percent of the vote, but Halvorson is banking on her name recognition winning out over the series of attack ads that have been hitting her for a past A rating by the NRA. Halvorson has said she has not sought support or a rating from the gun rights groups and backs universal background checks and gun registries. Last week, the Illinois State Rifle Association sent out a mailer on her behalf.

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