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Former Illinois Congresswoman Distances Herself From NRA

Under attack from Bloomberg, Rep. Debbie Halvorson tells BuzzFeed she speaks to both sides of gun debate.

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A former Illinois Congresswoman who is under assault from a pro-gun-control super-PAC funded largely by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg distanced herself from the National Rifle Association Tuesday in an interview with BuzzFeed.

Rep. Debbie Halvorson is one of three leading candidates in the race to replace Jesse Jackson, Jr. in Congress. The election, scheduled for February 26, will be the first federal election since the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The super-PAC's ads lay out a case against the candidate's "abysmal gun safety record," according to a press release.

"My win will not be a victory for the NRA," Halvorson said. "This will be a big victory for having someone at the table who can speak to both sides of this issue. That's the victory that having me win will be."

"How can it be a victory for NRA when I'm for universal background checks, beefing up the database, going after straw buyers, and making sure we register our guns? These are not things the NRA wants," she said.

One of her opponents is calling for Halvorson to release the NRA questionnaires that have in the past garnered her their "A" rating.

"I haven't filled one out in years, so I don't see how releasing one would make a difference," she said. "I'm not even seeking the NRA's endorsement."

Halvorson has said Chicago should focus on mental health and background checks for gun users.

"I haven't been outspoken for gun rights," she said. "But I have talked about the fact that there is no need to go after law-abiding citizens when there are things we can do right now to get the guns out of the hands of criminals."

She listed universal background checks, gun registration, and improved record keeping among the policies she supports.

"I am thrilled at this national conversation that the president and vice president have started," she said. "That's what my experience will bring. When I win, that experience and understanding of the issues will be a victory for having someone at the table from all sides and to make sure that these mass murders don't happen again."

One of Halvorson's opponents,Sstate Rep. Robin Kelly is asking Halvorson and the other leading candidate, state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, to release the National Rifle Association questionnaires they answered in previous elections.

Hutchinson, who in 2010 was given an "A-" ranking by the NRA, has changed her gun control stance from previous elections. In 2010, Hutchinson was blunt about her support of gun rights in a news release.

"The 2nd Amendment gives an American the right to bear arms to protect themselves and their property," the release stated. "Law-abiding citizens don't need any more infringements on their constitutional right to protect their families and their property."

Hutchinson has now come out in support of a ban on assault weapons.

"We need to ban assault weapons, cop-killer bullets, high-capacity magazines, and high-caliber ammunition," her website states. "We also need to take steps to close the gun-show loophole and ensure that those suffering from mental illness cannot purchase weapons."

Halvorson said her opponent's flip-flop will represent a bigger concern to voters —especially in a congressional district that includes many hunters.

"I don't have time to pay attention to all of my opponents, but it's going to be hard for [Hutchinson]," Halvorson said. "Now, she's more concerned with changing and getting her Chicago vote. If she had spent time like I had talking to people all over the district, she would understand that there are single moms out there who are working two and three jobs coming home at two in the morning who want the ability to own a gun because they're concerned for their safety."

Halvorson charged that her opponent's new views were a response to recent gun dialog.

"A lot of this is a knee-jerk reaction to national public opinion," she said.

The Kelly campaign, meanwhile, hopes to capitalize on the issue and on Bloomberg's intervention.

"The voters deserve to know how Toi and Debbie both earned 'A's' from the pro-gun lobby, which is notoriously known for only issuing 'A's' to its very strongest supporters," Kelly said.

So far, neither candidate has released their NRA questionnaires.

"What we have here is a very clear contrast. We have two candidates, Toi Hutchinson and Debbie Halvorson, who both have lifetime 'A' ratings from the NRA, and have been recipients of NRA support," Kelly's campaign manager, Jon Blair, told BuzzFeed. "Both are refusing to release their NRA questionnaires. On the flip side, we have Robin Kelly, who has spent her career fighting against gun violence, and has a lifetime 'F' rating from the NRA, of which she is very proud."

Reporting politics for BuzzFeed.

Contact CJ Lotz at cj.lotz+done@buzzfeed.com.

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