Black leaders in former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s congressional district are worried that a white candidate may win the special election for Jackson’s seat because multiple candidates in the primary may split the black vote.
Former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (pictured), a white Democrat described as a “veteran of suburban Chicago politics,” entered the race this week. The seat became vacant when Jackson, who is under federal investigation for misappropriating funds to decorate his home, resigned before the Thanksgiving weekend. Halvorson had lost a previous primary to Jackson, but “she won majorities of the vote in Will and Kankakee counties — suburban, mostly white areas that make up two of the district’s three counties.”
If multiple black candidates split the black vote while Halvorson maintains the floor of support she would have from the suburbs, she could win the primary.
Delmarie Cobb, a former adviser to Jackson Jr., who got elected to the district in 1995, said, “there’s a great deal of concern that Debbie Halvorson would win because the black vote would be split 18 ways.”
"The battle we have is that we can’t afford to lose a black voice in Congress,” Cobb said. “It would be a terrible loss in many ways.”
Kwame Raoul, a Democratic state senator, said Halvorson would not be able to get a majority of the voters in the district that has a slight black majority if she “were running against just one of these candidates.”
Black leaders in the district are trying to unify the black vote around a single candidate to prevent the seat from going to a white woman. Even Jackson, Jr.’s wife has been floated as a potential candidate.
“People are tired of this racial stuff — they want the best person for the job,” Halvorson said. “We’ve got to elect someone who on Day One can be there for us.”
The primary for the special election is Feb. 26, and the general election is expected on April 9. The winner of the Democratic primary is nearly guaranteed to win the seat.