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Leave race out of 2nd District race

Former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson

Former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson

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Updated: March 5, 2013 6:19AM

In Chicago politics, race always has something to do with it.

Now, it’s “doing it” in the contest to replace U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

Intimations, innuendo and commentary about race in this race are making national headlines. “NRA ally Debbie Halvorson could win Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Chicago seat,” the Politico website declared last week.

After Jackson resigned in November, I predicted the bid for the coveted 2nd Congressional slot would be an “all-out scrum.” Sixteen Democrats are now on deck for the Feb. 26 primary. Several Republicans are also in the hunt, but they are roadkill in this solidly blue district.

Blue is not the only color in play. Fifteen of the 16 Democrats are African American. So the sole white Democrat, former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, is positioned to benefit. The newly redistricted area includes suburban Kankakee and Will counties. Its voting-age population is 54 percent black.

Halvorson, who is based in south suburban Crete, has served one term in Congress and is a 12-year veteran of the Illinois Senate.

She took 29 percent of the district vote when she challenged Jackson in the March 2012 primary. In this sprawling field, she could win with just 20 percent of the vote. Much of that support, the theory goes, could come from white suburban areas. One recent poll puts her in the lead.

So of course some African-American activists and politicians are trotting out that tired “keep the seat” mantra. A majority-black district deserves black representation, they argue. Losing the district to a white politician would be a setback to voting rights, they claim.

On Wednesday morning, a group of black ministers held a prayer breakfast to endorse state Sen. Toi Hutchinson. According to a report by ABC-7’s Charles Thomas, they “prayed” that the other leading black candidates, such as former state Rep. Robin Kelly, Ald. Anthony Beale and state Sen. Napoleon Harris, would get out of the race.

“We need to make sure that everybody understands a house divided against itself cannot stand,” said Rev. Walter Turner, pastor of New Spiritual Light Missionary Baptist Church.

(By Wednesday afternoon, Providence had delivered. Harris dropped out — and endorsed Kelly).

All that praying and angst could be inspired by their heartfelt concern for the voters of the 2nd District. But I doubt it.

I didn’t detect much handwringing over the last, long, four years of Jackson’s tenure, when he was largely missing in action.

This is not an endorsement of Debbie Halvorson. Truth be told, she has legitimate liabilities. Most notably, she is taking heat for the “A” rating she once received from the National Rifle Association. She opposes legislative efforts to renew the federal assault weapons ban.

Halvorson says her position on guns is “evolving,” and that she favors tightening existing gun-control measures.

She is “frustrated” by the “keep the seat” chatter, she told me last week. She wants to be judged on her record, not her race, she said. “It hurts. Because I thought we were past that.”

Halvorson’s record is fair game. Her race is not.

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