At the outset of the race, Halvorson appeared to be Jackson's foil this cycle. She had represented three quarters of the redrawn district in office, including rural parts of Illinois that aren't familiar with "Junior." Halvorson's public feud with Jackson to control a third Chicago airport — which, if ever constructed, will be in the 2nd district — fueled her zeal to defeat him.
The spite between the two former colleagues is infamous, despite their denials.
"It's not a vendetta," Halvorson said in an interview. "Maybe he dislikes me more than I dislike him. It's not him personally; I just don't give him that much credit."
It seemed like Halvorson might have a decent shot a few months ago, but a funny thing happened on the way to the primary: Jackson ran a textbook, skilled campaign.
On a Monday evening, Halvorson and her husband attended a listening party in South Holland, Ill., with only two people in the audience. After knocking on 60 doors to summon a crowd to the house, Halvorson's field organizer returned empty-handed with a simple explanation: "There's a Bulls game on," he said.
Nonetheless, even in the small discussion, the most heated questions revolved around Jackson and Blagojevich.
"Between [Jackson] and the Senate seat, what's up with that? Was he trying to buy the seat?" asked Gilbert Oliveras, a 50-year-old South Holland resident.
Jackson said the House Ethics panel will vindicate him, given that Fitzgerald's "exhaustive" investigation turned up nothing. But Halvorson raised the stakes and countered with another rationale.
"People tell me that's because he was a snitch, he wore a wire and got immunity," Halvorson charged. "Well, people don't wear a wire unless they were found guilty of something."
Either way, Jackson denied that he helped federal prosecutors take down Blagojevich on tape.
"I've never worn a wire, [was] never asked to wear one," Jackson said in a wide-ranging interview. "I don't work for the government. I'm a U.S. Congressman."
After serving 17 years in Congress, many voters still know Jackson from his father, an activist and two-time presidential candidate. Even if the Blagojevich drama never unfolded, he'd still have something to prove.
"He knows, as a Jackson, he has always had to prove himself harder," Cook County Commissioner John Daley said after Chicago's St. Patrick's Day parade. "When he was first elected, he was judged differently than other people would [be] going to the Congress because of his last name. He had to prove himself."
Even so, Jackson knows he can't convince everyone his accomplishments should stand on their own. He laughs when local news outlets still mix up Jackson Jr. and Jackson Sr. at press conferences.
"I haven't seen him much," said Mercedes Brewer, a retired Marshall Fields waitress in Calumet City, Ill. "I like his father better."
Jackson confessed he's experienced an "internal battle" over whether to use his father on the campaign trail.
On the one hand, the lawmaker won't let his father open a headquarters for his organization, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, in the 2nd district. But the Congressman also attended a Rainbow PUSH forum this month where he received the endorsement of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).
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