Democrats lining up for chance at Rep. Jackson’s congressional seat

Former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.) on Monday became the first formal candidate for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s congressional seat, but a wide and diverse slate of contenders are expected to announce bids in the coming days.

Jackson (D-Ill.) announced his resignation last week, citing health problems. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) has set a special primary election for Feb. 26 and a general election for March 19, although he’s trying to get the court to allow him to push that date back to April 9, when there are municipal elections already scheduled. 

ADVERTISEMENT
In a release, Halvorson’s campaign cited the high volume of calls for her to run from “elected officials, labor leaders, clergy, civic leaders and residents” in the 2nd district.

The one-term lawmaker was ousted by Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger in 2010 and went on to launch a primary challenge against Jackson in 2012, but he defeated her by 40 percentage points.

Halvorson said that experience is part of what makes her well-suited for the seat this time around.

“I took on the tough battles. Taking on Jackson when I knew it would be an uphill battle was a challenge. People know I’m willing to do the same in office,” she said.

Halvorson said she has “a team that’s already ready to go” from her primary race, though she wouldn’t offer any names. She has nearly $244,000 cash on hand to launch another campaign.

Chicago-based Democratic strategist Eric Adelstein said that amount was enough to launch a bid, but a serious contender might have to raise much more to come out on top.

“You’re not serious if you don’t have $200- or $300,000 dollars. A winning candidate would have $600,000,” he said.

Though only Halvorson has formally announced a bid, the field is already crowded with possible candidates. The winner of the primary will be expected to win the heavily Democratic district.

Anthony Beale, alderman for the 9th ward, filed papers late Monday with the Illinois State Board of Elections to form a political committee to run for the seat.

Names proposed by Chicago-area Democrats familiar with the 2nd district include state Sens. Toi Hutchinson and Donne Trotter, incoming state Sen. Napoleon Harris, Will Burns from the 4th ward, former state Reps. David Mille and Robin Kelly and Sam Adam Jr., former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D) attorney.

Kelly told The Hill that she’d be announcing her decision on Sunday and was “doing my due diligence and building support for a run,” though she insisted she hadn’t yet made up her mind.

Burns told The Hill that “my time frame for this decision is soon. We don’t have a lot of time…I am strongly considering getting in this race. So I’ll make a statement soon.”

Former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger is considering a run, but he lives outside the district and faced criticism as board president for raising taxes and promoting a family member. He also had a relatively close race against his Republican challenger, despite running in a heavily Democratic county, and came in last in the Democratic primary for the position in 2010.

Jackson’s wife, Sandi, an alderwoman for Chicago’s 7th ward, could also launch a bid, though one Chicago Democratic strategist said that was unlikely, citing Jackson’s health concerns.

Cook County Assessor and Chairman of the county’s Democratic Party Joseph Berrios told the Chicago Tribune that he expects so many candidates to throw their hats in the ring that the race could turn into a “free-for-all.”

To prevent such an outcome, he said he’s been talking to local Democratic committeemen to prepare an endorsement soon after Quinn announces an election date, in hopes of narrowing the field.

“One reason [to take that approach] is to get everyone together in a room and see if we can solidify around a candidate,” Berrios told the Tribune. “If someone has the support of most of the committeemen, if one candidate can garner the most support, that will get them closer to the finish line.”

Jackson announced his resignation in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) last Wednesday, in which he said that his deteriorating health made it impossible for him to return to work. He has spent much of the past six months away from Congress, receiving treatment for bipolar disorder.

He is also under federal investigation for alleged misuse of campaign funds.

Despite the investigation and his illness, Jackson easily defeated his Republican challenger on Election Day and was reelected to his seat with 63 percent of the vote.


More in House

Rep. Rangel praises action from Havana

Read more »