New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in effect won Tuesday’s special election primary for the Illinois seat vacated by Congressman Jesse Jackson II. Though his name did not even make the ballot, Bloomberg's money did in propping up the victor, former Illinois State Rep. Robin Kelly, in a sign that the all powerful pro-gun NRA lobby has met its match.
Bloomberg, a wealthy gun-control advocate who's become increasingly vocal in the wake of the Newtown school shooting, spent more than $3.5 million in campaign ads that helped Kelly win the race. Those attack ads pitted Kelly against pro-gun Democrat Debbie Halvorson, a one-time congresswoman, who led the field in polls as recently as last week.
Bloomberg's ads, paid for by his Independence USA super PAC, lambasted Halvorson for her "A" rating from the NRA. His money dominated the race. As OpenSecrets points out, "[Independence USA] spent more than six times as much as the campaigns of the five actual candidates."
Halvorson had bristled at the outside spending, and told voters to "send a message to New York" by rejecting his influence and supporting her anyway, but the voters didn't listen. Kelly, another gun control advocate, won the race easily with 58% of the vote.
Kelly clearly sees her victory as a win for gun safety. "You sent a message that was heard around our state and across the nation," Kelly told supporters last night. "A message that tells the NRA that their days of holding our country hostage are coming to an end."
Bloomberg called her win "an important victory for common sense leadership on gun violence."
The question going forward is what role Bloomberg's Independence USA Super PAC could play in future races. So far he is the group's only donor, having given nearly $10 million of his own money to the cause. That money doesn't yet rival the NRA's $25 million in outside spending in 2012, but it could if Bloomberg can rally others to his cause.
It will also be interesting to see how anti-gun spending impacts races in more "purple" districts and states. Illinois's 2nd district is reliably Democratic, which may be part of why the anti-NRA message resonated so well with voters.
It may also be a reflection of the growing number of people who dislike the NRA. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found the organization has a 41% approval and 34% disapproval rating from Americans. It's approval had remained steady since the January 2011 poll, but the disapproval had jumped.