Pick a fight in a place where you have a substantial advantage and where almost nobody else is playing, dump a ton of money attacking one candidate and supporting another, and then declare victory when — surprise! surprise! — your candidate wins.
That is what happened in the special election in Illinois’ 2nd District, where Democrats held a primary Tuesday that was tantamount to selecting the district’s next member of Congress. The seat is open because Democrat Jesse L. Jackson Jr. resigned.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s super PAC, Independence USA, spent $2.5 million against the candidacy of former Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who had received high ratings from the National Rifle Association while in office, and in favor of former Cook County Chief Administrative Officer Robin Kelly, a former state representative.
Halvorson spent little cash, and although she began with an advantage in the race because of name recognition, she was simply overwhelmed by Bloomberg’s money and messaging, much of which centered on gun control issues.
Oddly, Politico referred to the outcome as a “major win for Bloomberg,” even though the newspaper also noted the mayor’s political action committee “swamped the underfunded ex-congresswoman.”
Before the ink was dry on the results, Independence USA PAC was out with a “media advisory” announcing a Wednesday morning event that would allegedly show how it had “worked to level the playing field with the NRA through a robust direct mail and television ad campaign.”
In a statement released after it was clear that Kelly had won, Bloomberg called the result “the latest sign that voters across the country are demanding change from their representatives in Washington — not business as usual. 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.”
In fact, if there was any message delivered it was from Democratic primary voters in the 2nd District of Illinois, which voted 80.7 percent for President Barack Obama in 2012, according to Daily Kos. The primary result said nothing about voters outside the 2nd District or about “voters across the country.” Nor did it say what “common sense gun legislation” actually is.
There certainly is plenty of polling showing that Americans favor more restrictions on gun ownership, including background checks and limits on the size of ammunition magazines. February’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, for example, found 61 percent of respondents saying that laws covering the sale of firearms should be “more strict.”
But while Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York has indicated that his party plans on making “reducing gun violence” a major issue in the 2014 elections, it’s far from clear that voters will cast their midterm ballots based primarily or even to a significant extent on gun issues. And, if they do, it isn’t even clear whether those motivated by the issue will be on the gun control or the gun-owner-rights side of the issue.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.