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Second district congressional candidate RobKelly campaigns BJ's Market near Stony Isl87th street Chicago Monday February 25 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago

Second district congressional candidate Robin Kelly campaigns at BJ's Market near Stony Island and 87th street in Chicago on Monday, February 25, 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: March 27, 2013 6:28AM



If ever a vote counted in a Chicago-area race — it is today.

A special primary in a special election was expected to bring out low numbers, still, the Chicago Board of Elections says this could be the worst turnout in decades.

No doubt today’s blizzard-like conditions kept even loyal voters from reaching the polls.

At about 1:45 p.m., turnout was at 11 percent.

“This puts us on course for turnout in the mid-teens. This is to be expected with a special primary and special election,” board spokesman James Allen said in a statement. “It is shaping up to be among the lowest turnouts in recent decades.”

Candidates were offering to arrange transportation for potential voters. Candidate Joyce Washington, who is competing for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s old seat in the 2nd congressional district, was offering rides to the polls in a robo call made this morning. Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said on Monday he too would help people get to polls.

The candidates in the race crisscrossed the vast, diverse South Side and south suburban 2nd Congressional District Monday, giving last-minute pitches to turn voters their way.

Low voter turnout is already expected in the special election, but a forecast of snow for Tuesday had candidates working even harder to persuade their supporters go to the polls.

Beale was outside a South Side Jewel grocery store on 87th Street, passing out flyers to customers and even running up to cars that slowed as they passed.

“I need your vote tomorrow!” he yelled out.

Beale had a full day ahead of him that would mean visits throughout the district, ending in Kankakee. Beale is quick to remind that he’s the only sitting elected official running for office (two others — Toi Hutchinson and Napoleon Harris — recently dropped out though Hutchinson’s name will remain on the ballot). Beale also says negotiating the opening of a Wal-Mart and related development on a 170-acre site on the South Side demonstrates his ability to bring jobs to the economically struggling district.

“We’re the only campaign with a ground game,” Beale claimed on Monday. “They’re running their campaign from behind a computer,” he said of rival Robin Kelly. But Beale said it was impossible to count the number of doors his people had knocked on.

Kelly’s campaign says it knows its numbers, claiming to have 200 people scattered in the field and having knocked on 110,000 doors since December.

“We have a massive, massive field operation,” said Jonathan Blair, Kelly’s campaign manager.

At a campaign stop at BJ’s Market & Bakery, 87th and Stony Island, Kelly, whose voice was growing hoarse from a weekend of campaigning, said she began early shaking hands at train stations and she would circle back to the stops by day’s end.

“I’m kind of known for the trains. I did it as a state rep … That’s like, my claim to fame,” she said. Door knocking and phone banks would also continue. “The troops and myself are working really hard.”

Kelly seized on guns as her main issue early on, hitting competitor Debbie Halvorson for having a past A rating from the NRA.

Halvorson, a onetime member of Congress, has sought to distance herself from the NRA, saying she hasn’t sought its support or filled out the group’s questionnaire.

On Monday, Halvorson swung through the district, working three train stations, four restaurants, stopped at her Steger office then was heading to Kankakee.

Halvorson’s position against an assault weapons ban has made her the target of a flurry of ads — $2.1 million worth — funded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg has backed Kelly, even as Beale complains he has a more demonstrated history against gun violence. Kelly has said Bloomberg’s SuperPac, Independence USA, sunk the money into the race without her consultation.

Halvorson has blasted the ads as inaccurate since she has moderated her position on guns, backing universal background checks and registries, on Monday said she’s betting it backfires. The Illinois State Rifle Association recently put out a mailer supporting Halvorson.

“The first thing people say when people see me is: ‘Oh my God, you’re Debbie Halvorson, we hate those commercials and Bloomberg has no business in this race,’” she said. “I can almost predict what’s going to come out of people’s mouth before they say it.”

Ethics, too, has been an issue in the special Democratic primary election that’s being held because Jackson Jr. resigned and pleaded guilty to looting his campaign funds to live the high life with his wife, former Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th). However, the three top contenders in the race — which includes 18 active candidates in all — fell short of summoning up outrage at Jackson’s crimes. Kelly said simply: “It’s sad.”

Beale said he was praying for Jackson’s family. When asked if he also was praying for the people of the 2nd Congressional District who Jackson lied to, Beale defended Jackson, saying he did research on bipolar depression, which is the illness from which Jackson says he suffers.

“Some of it is compulsive behavior,” Beale said. “The illness could have had a huge part in playing into that type of behavior.”



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