Former Rep. Debbie Halvorson, D-Ill. has an unusual perspective on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's independent expenditure campaign against her in Illinois's 2nd Congressional Disrict. Bloomberg's Independence USA super PAC is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars advertising against Halvorson's gun policy stance in the special election to replace resigned Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. But Halvorson says it has energized her instead of worrying her, and she isn't feeling pressure to change her views.
In a phone interview, Halvorson said Bloomberg was "trying to buy an election" and the attention would only bring her further name recognition. She said voters in the district are "angry" that a national super PAC is parachuting in and that she's gathered much support from people since Bloomberg's PAC first attacked her "A" rating from the National Rifle Association.
Halvorson's main Democratic primary opponents, former state Rep. Robin Kelly and state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, have also focused their anti-Halvorson attacks on Halvorson's NRA rating and her opposition to resurrecting the assault weapons ban. Halvorson calls Hutchinson, who was once Halvorson's chief of staff in the Illinois state Senate, a "hypocrite" on guns, saying that Hutchinson shifted to her current gun positions from ones that had earned the state senator her own "A" rating from the NRA.
Halvorson's fundraising lagged behind both Kelly and Hutchinson in the campaigns' most recent reports to the Federal Election Commission. Halvorson raised about $26,000 by the end of 2012 and added a $25,000 loan, while Kelly raised just shy of $200,000 and Hutchinson brought in nearly $136,000. Bloomberg's independent spending only exaggerates Halvorson's financial disadvantage. But Halvorson does have a commodity the others lack: preexisting name recognition. She believes her previous primary run against Jackson, plus her time in Congress, brought enough name recognition to compensate for her lack of funds, while the others are less known.
Chicago State University Professor Phillip Beverly said in a phone interview that Halvorson is not wrong that she has a name recognition advantage. But he cautioned that her recognition is less than positive with many voters after that brutal and personal 2012 primary challenge against Jackson. Then again, Beverly also notes that with a crowded field of 17 candidates, one could end up winning the all-important Democratic nomination with less than 20 percent of the primary vote, and Halvorson's white suburban base could deliver that percentage.
Halvorson would need a strong ground game to accomplish that, though, and with low funds she'd be reliant on volunteers instead of more organized machinery. (Hutchinson has the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees endorsement, which Halvorson characteristically says doesn't bother her, as well as an endorsement from powerful Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.) Beverly sees Kelly and Hutchinson's campaigns as more ready to function when the special election primary rolls around.
Kelly released an internal poll showing her with a slight lead Wednesday. The special primary is set for February 26.