After Robin Kelly’s dominant victory in Tuesday night’s Democratic primary to fill ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s vacant House seat, there’s been a lot of very facile analysis about what this race means and doesn’t mean. On the one hand, skepticism is good: Far too often, pundits over-read meaningless special elections. But on the flip-side, acting overly dismissive of what message the results send is equally wrong-headed. That’s why it’s important to set the record straight.
The most reductionist, naïve view frames Kelly’s win as “black anti-gun candidate defeats white pro-gun candidate in black district beset by gun violence.” Yes, when described that way, it sure sounds like a nothingburger of a race. But that simplistic take elides so much and is so misleading as to be utterly false.
Here’s how things actually played out.
After Jackson resigned, a large number of potential candidates crowded into the Democratic primary, which was going to be for all the marbles. (In this dark blue district, the general election is only a formality.) Under ordinary circumstances, you’d expect a liberal black politician to emerge victorious, just given the demographics of the seat and the kind of people who have held it in the past (like, well, Jackson).
But there was an important wrinkle here: In a large, multi-way primary, the ultimate winner would likely scrape by with a narrow plurality, perhaps as low as 30 percent of the vote or even less. Head below the fold as we explore what exactly this wrinkle meant, and how it would ultimately affect the trajectory of this entire race.