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Preckwinkle endorses Hutchinson in 2nd District race, not former staffer

State Senator Toi Hutchinsaccepts endorsement Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for 2nd congressional district seat. Monday January 28 2013.

State Senator Toi Hutchinson, accepts the endorsement of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, for the 2nd congressional district seat. Monday, January 28, 2013. I Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 1, 2013 7:41PM



Snubbing a loyal one-time staffer, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced Monday she’ll use her political muscle to push state Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) to the front of a crowded pack of Democrats running for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s old congressional seat.

At a Monday afternoon news conference in downtown Chicago, Preckwinkle stood next to Hutchinson and told reporters it wasn’t an easy decision, considering her former chief administrative officer, Robin Kelly, is also among the 17 Democrats in the race to win the South Side and south suburban 2nd Congressional District.

“I’ve thought long and hard and frankly struggled with this decision because Robin Kelly is a former employee of mine and friend,” Preckwinkle said. But she also said this was about being pragmatic: “It’s not necessarily about the person you know best or you’ve known the longest, but the person you think is the strongest candidate and will win — and that’s Sen. Hutchinson.”

Polling numbers she’s looking at show candidate and former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson — a Democrat, but one the liberal Preckwinkle calls a “conservative” she can’t back — in the lead. Preckwinkle opted to back Hutchinson, whom she calls a fellow soldier in government reform and transparency. For her part, Hutchinson says she came up a close second in the polls, and with Preckwinkle’s backing, “I’ve never felt better about my chances to win this election.”

Indeed, the race could pivot on the hot-button issue that tends to define conservatives and liberals: gun control.

Over the weekend, Halvorson said at a candidates’ forum she didn’t support a ban on assault weapons. She told the Sun-Times Monday that it’s exasperating there’s already an assault weapons ban in Cook County and yet Chicago has a soaring murder rate.

“I don’t want to pass another law on a law-abiding citizen until we get guns out of the hands of criminals,” by cracking down on straw purchasers and other restrictions, she said.

Both Halvorson and Hutchinson have received support from the National Rifle Association, something that could turn off Democratic voters in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook and the almost daily toll gun violence takes on communities throughout Chicago.

While she didn’t talk about it during the news conference, Hutchinson explained the NRA grade to the Sun-Times recently, noting that part of her Senate district is rural, and she supports weapons for hunting. She says she signed on to bills in the Illinois Legislature that ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Still, Kelly made hay of the NRA grade in a searing statement her camp issued Monday: “Getting an A rating from the NRA might get you President Preckwinkle’s endorsement, but it won’t fly with the voters in the Second District. They want someone who will fight against the NRA not stand with them. Robin Kelly is the one candidate ready to stand with President Obama to bring common sense gun control to help families throughout Chicago and the Southland.”

Preckwinkle, a former Chicago alderman who’s banged the drum about stricter gun-control laws, said she’ll shield Hutchinson from criticism on gun control: “I will vocally defend her against attacks from opponents” on the issue.

With a month to go before the election — and a short campaign season because of Jackson’s resignation — Preckwinkle says Halvorson has the name recognition, thanks to her time in Congress and an unsuccessful bid last year to unseat Jackson, that puts her ahead.

Halvorson dismisses Preckwinkle’s criticism that she’s a conservative, telling the Sun-Times: “They know a common-sense centrist like myself is going to win, and they don’t like it.”

Preckwinkle said that she and Hutchinson share many commonalities — they’re both parents and former teachers. They also use the same powerhouse political consultant, Ken Snyder, who once worked for David Axelrod.

Contributing: Natasha Korecki



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