Vying for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s old seat in Illinois' 2nd Congressional District, ex-congresswoman Debbie Halvorson is trying to win a Democratic primary by taking a stance more common of GOP lawmakers: opposing President Obama's call to ban assault weapons.
After public opinion of assault weapons shifted in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting, gun control has emerged as a key issue in the hotly contested race to replace Jackson. As NBC Chicago reports, on Sunday, Halvorson came out strongly opposed to banning assault weapons during a candidate forum at Trinity United Church of Christ:
“We’ve buried far too many of our own children over the years—every day. When are we going to go after the criminals? When are we going to go after the people who buy guns for those who aren’t able to go get their backgrounds checked? We need to strengthen the laws we already have instead of keep talking about new ones,” Halvorson said. “We need to do more about the criminals. Cook County has an assault weapons ban. We have the highest amount of murders in the country. Let’s do more about enforcing the laws we have at the same time doing more about keeping our streets safe.”
NBC notes Halvorson's position is more conservative than that of Senator Mark Kirk, the state's leading Republican on the matter.
Halvorson's Democratic opponents in the Feb. 26 special primary are trying to isolate the ex-congresswoman on the issue, according to the Tribune. Halvorson enjoys an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association while her opponents have all maintained positions that favor stricter gun laws.
Other candidates like former Illinois state Rep. Robin Kelly and Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale are in favor of an assault weapons ban along with other restrictions like mandatory background checks and banning high-capacity magazines.
Deeming Halvorson the current front-runner in the race, Politico explored how breaking from the pack could be a savvy move: Halvorson is widely-recognized in the district thanks to both a prior stint in Congress and her primary challenge of Jackson and has what Politico calls "a narrow but critical base of support in the suburban and rural parts" of the district — which covers both parts of Chicago's South Side as well as suburban Kankakee County and parts of Will County.
In addition, Politico suggests being the lone white candidate in the race "creates a possibility that the black vote will splinter, opening a path for Halvorson."
While Halvorson has found a strong way to differentiate herself from the rest of the candidates, other contenders are pulling down influential endorsements from leading Democrats. On Monday, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle surprised some when she threw her weighty endorsement behind state Sen. Toi Hutchinson rather than Kelly, her one-time cabinet member.
“It was a really tough decision to make. I had to make a difficult choice between two people…” Preckwinkle told the Sun-Times. “But I had to pick the candidate who I thought could win.”