After weeks of absorbing attacks from Michael Bloomberg's SuperPAC for her ties to the NRA, a Chicago-area Congressional candidate called on voters to "send a message to New York" with Tuesday's primary that the outside group has no sway over their special election.
Debbie Halvorson is a leading candidate in the IL-2 Democratic primary, but came under a $2.2 million barrage of attack ads in recent weeks from Bloomberg's PAC, Independence USA, for her alleged coziness with the gun lobby. Halvorson has tried to distance herself from the NRA, while using the attacks to position herself against meddling carpetbaggers.
"Bloomberg controls much of these national publications, but the local press understands his ads are over-the-top lies," Halvorson's spokesman Sean Howard said. "The national press took it and ran with it because Bloomberg controls it. We're going to send a message today to New York."
In Tuesday's primary, voters will choose among 14 Democratic and five Republican candidates for a Chicago-area special election that has drawn national attention for the questions it raises in the national gun control debate. The April 9 election will fill the IL-2 seat formerly held by Jesse Jackson Jr.
Bloomberg's people are sitting back to see what happens to the election they've dropped millions on.
"We're happy with what we've done," Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC spokesman Stefan Friedman said. "We've shown both Republicans and Democrats there's a counter to the NRA. We've watched Halvorson do calisthenics around her NRA support. And now we're going to sit back and see what happens."
Bloomberg's PAC attacked Halvorson as well as Illinois state senator Toi Hutchinson, who withdrew from the race last week. Independence USA has announced its support of candidate Robin Kelly, Cook County Chief Administrative Officer. Halvorson and Kelly are widely considered the race's frontrunners.
Howard said voters will turn out to show their support of Halvorson and their anger toward the Bloomberg attack ads.
"People are really coming out," he said. "Second amendment lovers are coming out. They don't like the way the national press is coming in and classifying Cook County as a shoot 'em up place."
Howard added that the national spotlight on this election has brought further distaste for the wealthy Bloomberg and drummed up support for Halvorson.
"It's hard to say" whether national attention to this election will bring out more voters, said Ken Menzel, deputy general counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections. "This primary figures to be a light turnout in the scheme of things."
Menzel said the candidates will see results around 10 p.m. but final tallies will be released March 7. The polls opened at 6 a.m. today and will close at 7 p.m. CST.
"This isn't like a presidential election where every other ad is for a candidate and people are focused on it," Menzel said.
Howard said that Halvorson started her day with a prayer circle, surrounded by black Chicago-area ministers who support her. She'll spend the rest of the day calling supporters and encouraging them to get to the polls, Howard said.
Robin Kelly's campaign manager Jonathan Blair said Kelly plans to visit polling sites and an International House of Pancakes to encourage voters to head to the primary.
Blair said Kelly has run on a gun platform from the start of her campaign. He said that so far, turnout appears to be lower than hoped but those who support Kelly will come out to make their stances on gun control heard.
"We were discussing the epidemic of gun violence from the very start, from Robin's announcement speech," he said. "Before Newtown happened. It's an epidemic in Chicago and it has been an epidemic long before the campaign."