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Bloomberg-backed candidate romps in Chicago race

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 9:15 p.m.

CHICAGO — In the race to replace former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's super PAC followed a simple strategy: Choose a strong anti-gun candidate, attack rivals supported by the National Rifle Association and add in $2.2 million in resources.

It worked. Bloomberg's candidate, former Illinois lawmaker Robin Kelly, sailed past more than a dozen rivals to win the Democratic primary in this Chicago-area district where guns became the main issue. Bloomberg's super PAC, Independence USA, boasted on Wednesday that the race would be its template for future elections. But political experts and public officials were skeptical whether the effort can be replicated elsewhere.

“That is a harbinger of what is to come,” said Bloomberg pollster Doug Schoen, who worked previously for President Bill Clinton. “While Chicago may not be the rest of the country, I have been at this 35 years, and I've yet to find an elected official who does not look at an election like this and sit up and take notice.”

Because the district is overwhelmingly Democratic, Kelly is widely expected to win the April 9 special election. Her victory generated buzz far beyond the city. Bloomberg said her win showed the public had spoken. Vice President Joe Biden said the victory sent an anti-gun message, and congressmen worried about the repercussions.

Bloomberg is perhaps the single most influential figure in the national gun debate, beyond even President Obama and Biden, because of his deep pockets. The NRA's political action committee raised $1.1 million last month, a trivial amount compared with the billions that Bloomberg has at his disposal.

“The voters of this congressional district understood that they and their children and grandchildren are at risk with guns on the streets,” Bloomberg said in Washington after meeting with the vice president to discuss efforts to curb gun violence.

But political experts have doubts. They point to the unusual circumstances that shaped the race: It was the first wide-open primary since 1995, with a truncated campaign season of just three months. It was an off-cycle contest that drew only 14 percent voter turnout. And Chicago — where all the top city leaders are already advocates of an assault-weapons ban — has endured a spike in street violence. More than 40 people were killed in Chicago last month, the deadliest January in a decade.

“He pummeled the race in one direction, and (most) of the people didn't participate,” said Thom Serafin, a longtime Chicago political consultant. “If they're going to take that model around the country, good luck.”

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