COMMENTARY | After the special election for the second congressional district of Illinois, gun control advocates claimed victory. The National Rifle Association (NRA) denied that this was the case. Who is right? The answer could have an impact on House and Senate races in 2014.
After state Sen. Robin Kelly clobbered former Rep. Debbie Halvorson for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s seat, everyone tried to spin the results to their favor. Vice President Joe Biden said, “For the first time since Newtown, voters sent a clear unequivocal signal,” according to ABC. “The voters sent a message last night, not just to the NRA, but to politicians all around the country by electing Robin Kelly, who stood strong for gun safety totally consistent with our Second Amendment rights. The message is there will be a moral price as well as a political price to be paid for inaction.”
Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican, believes that his Political Action Committee (PAC) won the day. This PAC tries to counteract the NRA by spending on ads that go after politicians with high pro-gun scores. His group spent heavily to defeat Halvorson, who had an “A” report card from the NRA from when she served in Congress from 2009 to 2011.
The NRA responded when its chief lobbyist Chris Cox told the Associated Press that Bloomberg “just spent over $2 million to hold arguably the deepest blue seat in the U.S. House, in a race where the NRA spent zero and had no involvement.”
But Halvorson did have the full backing of the NRA, even against a Republican in 2008 and 2010. Back then, Cox said, “The NRA-PVF is endorsing Debbie Halvorson because she has defended the Second Amendment freedoms of law-abiding gun owners, hunters and sportsmen in Illinois and across America.” It credited her with getting concealed weapons to be legalized in U.S. parks, according to the Huffington Post.
A poll taken before the special election had Halvorson in the lead. But Kelly won handily. So the gun control advocates won, right?
* First of all, Halvorson was still leading after the Bloomberg PAC spending.
* Second, Halvorson was not ahead in the polls by that much. She had a lead, but it was 21 percent to 17 percent, with many undecided voters
* Third, the leanings of the district are definitely liberal Democrat, as the NRA pointed out. This area hasn’t gone Republican in quite a spell. In fact, it is fairly liberal as far as districts go, and is not some purple region held by a moderate-to-conservative Democrat.
But there is a way that the results mattered. Democrats who like to sport their “A” rating from the NRA will be wearing the political version of a scarlet letter “A” in liberal circles.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.