In a race defined by gun-control issues, former state Rep. Robin Kelly’s landslide win Tuesday spawned a narrative that the special-election Democratic primary in a Chicago-area House district is illustrative of larger national trends. Some pundits argued it signifies the declining influence of the National Rifle Association and the elevated ability of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to boost his preferred candidates to power and a warning to pro-gun Democrats.
But the sweeping parallels drawn from Tuesday’s election don’t take into account a myriad of factors that made Kelly’s race unique. …
The district: Illinois’ 2nd District is no one’s idea of a battleground, giving President Obama nearly 81 percent of its vote in 2012. It’s also based in the violence-wracked South Side of Chicago, making gun-control arguments particularly salient. It stands to reason that the NRA lacked influence here, just as the Sierra Club wouldn’t expect to back a winner in a West Virginia Republican primary. In addition, the expensive airtime in the Chicago media market magnified the impact of Bloomberg’s money. Given the limited time frame of a special election, the candidates’ abbreviated fundraising made the insertion of outside money a bigger factor than it would be in a normal election cycle.
The candidate: Kelly’s win was notable because she defeated former Rep. Debbie Halvorson, the early favorite in the race. Halvorson’s front-runner status and pro-gun stances are what prompted Bloomberg to get involved. But, as Slate’s David Weigel points out, Halvorson only earned 24 percent of the vote in a 2012 primary with then-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., the seat’s former occupant. Unlike many of Bloomberg’s potential targets, Halvorson was not an entrenched incumbent with strong allies in the House and local political circles.