In a closely watched special election in Illinois on Tuesday, former state representative Robin Kelly trounced former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson to win the Democratic nomination for Illinois' 2nd congressional district after a late deluge of ads from a PAC formed by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg highlighted Halvorson's pro-gun credentials and pitched Kelly as the best alternative.
With over 99 percent of precincts reporting, Kelly won 51.8 percent of the vote, more than doubling Halvorson's 24.4 percent. Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale earned 10.8 percent, and the remaining candidates were mired in single digits.
Kelly is favored to win the general election on April 9. The 2nd district, which encompasses Chicago's South Side and the surrounding suburbs, trends strongly Democratic.
Halvorson, who served one term in Congress between 2009 and 2011, entered the race as the most closely watched candidate - a widely-known name and a white woman among a raft of black competitors, many expected her to perform strongly if none of her opponents emerged as the chief alternative.
Unfortunately for Halvorson, that's exactly what happened. Her support from groups like the National Rifle Association - which awarded her an "A" rating during her tenure in Congress - prompted a PAC formed by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, to pour $2.3 million into the race on behalf of Kelly, who spent much of the campaign highlighting her support for stronger gun control measures.
Bloomberg's PAC flooded the airwaves with ads slamming Halvorson for her laxity on gun control and touting Kelly as a better choice. Voters in and around Chicago, which has been wracked by gun violence in recent years, proved a receptive audience to Bloomberg's pro-gun control message.
In a statement on Tuesday night, Bloomberg called Kelly's win "an important victory for common sense leadership on gun violence, a problem that plagues the whole nation."
"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."
Kelly's victory may be a sign that Bloomberg is prepared to play a bigger role in national elections, providing a countervailing force to the powerful gun lobby, which has well-earned its reputation for defeating political foes.
The special election was triggered by the resignation of former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who last week pleaded guilty to misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal expenses.