The two top opponents have conceded defeat tonight to Robin Kelly in the special Democratic primary election to replace disgraced former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress.
With two-thirds percent of precincts reporting, Kelly had 55 percent to 23 percent for former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson and 10 percent for 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale.
Halvorson called Kelly to concede and gave a concession speech.
"This is a big night for Robin, she did a great job," Halvorson said, before acknowledging the large role money played in the race. "We all know how rough it was for me to have to run an election against someone who spent $2.3 million against me," Halvorson said. "Every seven and a half minutes there was a commercial..."
Beale did the same shortly afterward, saying he couldn't get through to Kelly so he texted her congratulations.
“The biggest disservice in this race was the dumping of millions of dollars to support one candidate," Beale told supporters on the South Side. “If this is the future of the Democratic Party, then we are all in big trouble.”
At the Kelly campaign party in Matteson, supporters waited for the candidate to declare victory.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose super PAC poured more than $2.2 million into the contest, offered congratulations to Kelly.
"This is an important victory for common sense leadership on gun violence, a problem that plagues the whole nation. And it's the latest sign that voters across the country are demanding change from their representatives in Washington -- not business as usual. As Congress considers the President's gun package, voters in Illinois have sent a clear message: we need common sense gun legislation now. Now it's up to Washington to act," Bloomberg said in a statement.
The total number of votes isn’t expected to be large, however, as a storm that brought a wintry mix of snow and slush depressed turnout in the 2nd Congressional District contest.
Chicago election officials reported that as of 1:45 p.m., turnout was about 11 percent among sampled city precincts. The figures included ballots cast today and early and absentee voting.
"This puts us on course for turnout in the mid-teens," said Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, in an e-mail. "This is to be expected with a special primary and special election. It is shaping up to be among the lowest turnouts in recent decades."
There are primaries for both political parties in the South Side and south suburban district, but the territory is so heavily Democratic that whoever emerges from the crowded Democratic field is expected to easily win the April 9 special general election.
Today's voting follows weeks of candidate forums, an accelerated campaign schedule and a flurry of TV ads from the mayor of New York. While the top-tier candidates among the 14 Democrats vying for the primary nomination are known, there also are some big unknowns. Voter turnout, already anticipated to be very low, could be exacerbated by nasty weather.
The results of early voting held between Feb. 11 and Saturday demonstrated a lack of interest in the contest, despite its ramifications in deciding who will represent voters and their disparate interests in the vast district.
A majority of the district's Democratic voters live in suburban Cook County, with an additional one-third from the South Side. The district also includes parts of eastern Will County and all of Kankakee County, and together the two regions make up slightly less than 10 percent of the Democratic vote.
In suburban Cook, 4,459 early votes were cast, with 98 percent of those voters taking Democratic ballots. Of the 11 suburban early voting locations, Matteson Village Hall, in Kelly's hometown, had the most with 1,601 voters.
In Chicago, 98 percent of the 2,768 early voters cast Democratic ballots. Only 63 early votes were cast for Republicans.
In Will, 246 voters cast early ballots, all but 40 of them Democratic votes. Kankakee County officials reported 699 early ballots, with 533 voting Democrat and 166 Republican.
"I just think if it was a regular race, then they'd look a little bit different," Kelly said of the low early voting totals. "I also think because (the special primary) came so close to the November election that there's some (voter) fatigue."
But in a large field of candidates and questionable turnout, a nomination for Congress could be decided by mere hundreds of votes. Even as forecasters sounded warnings of a Tuesday smorgasbord of wintry weather, candidates sought to energize core supporters to help get out the vote.
In an email to supporters, Kelly's campaign pleaded for volunteers to help get voters to the polls and asked for money for its get-out-the-vote field operation.
Halvorson acknowledged the early voting numbers were "paltry" and that voter turnout would be a "huge" factor Tuesday. Halvorson said she believed turnout could be driven by the district's history of scandals — including last week's guilty plea by Jackson on federal charges of illegally converting about $750,000 in campaign cash to personal use.
"I think this race has gotten so much attention and people are so angry about what the 2nd Congressional District has had to deal with over the years that they're going to take a special interest to make sure they are going to vote for someone who is completely different than what they've seen," said Halvorson, of Crete.
Halvorson also has been the target of the most extensive advertising in the contest, more than $2.2 million worth of TV and mail attacks by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's super political action committee, centered on her past National Rifle Association support. Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC is backing Kelly.
Beale said the low number of early ballots puts all the more importance on Election Day field efforts. He said that well-established organizations in the six city wards in the district could serve as an advantage for his campaign.
"It's just slow across the board, and that just goes to show it is going to be a very low turnout," Beale said of the early votes. "We're just making sure we're targeting our core, solid voters, and we're going to get them out to the polls and be victorious Tuesday night."
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