Several contenders vying to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress gathered at Governor's State University Thursday night where their debate was dominated by one chief topic: Guns.
Ten Democrats in all participated in the debate, each of them racing for the 2nd Congressional District seat that will be decided by special election following a Feb. 26 primary. Moderated by Fox Chicago reporter Mike Flannery, the debate covered a range of issues spending cuts, tax increases, troop occupation in Afghanistan.
According to Fox, the debate grew the liveliest when gun control came up. Asking for a show of hands, Flannery asked the contenders who among them supported the president's proposed ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
The NRA-favored Debbie Halvorson was the lone candidate who did not support Obama's proposal; Halvorson has both previously opposed the assault weapon ban while simultaneously distancing herself from the controversial gun advocacy group.
"I refuse to support any other wide-ranging law that is going to harm a law-abiding citizen until we do something that is going to go after the criminal," Halvorson said during the debate.
State Sen. Toi Hutchinson indicated she supported the ban, an about-face on her earlier record showing greater support of gun access and ownership. The Tribune recently obtained a 2010 NRA questionnaire illustrating Hutchinson's pro-gun leanings, though the senator told the paper's editorial board she has "definitely moderated" her views in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in December.
While Halvorson appeared to be leading the race by a slight margin, former state representative Robin Kelly released poll numbers Wednesday showing her edging out Halvorson and Hutchinson. Kelly’s pollster told the National Journal the former rep was gaining ground due to the gun debate, saying, “This is what this race is about."
Gun control looms so large in the race that even the staunchly anti-gun New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is throwing his political weight around: in January, a Bloomberg-back super PAC released attack ads blasting Halvorson's gun stance.
(Read the full list of candidates in the Illinois 2nd congressional district race.)