CHICAGO — State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) picked up a key political endorsement Monday in her bid to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle formally endorsed Hutchinson, saying she was the best hope to fend off "conservative" former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson of Crete. Preckwinkle also opted for Hutchinson over Robin Kelly of Matteson, her chief administrative officer at Cook County before Kelly left the post to run for the 2nd Congressional District seat.
"I've thought long and hard and frankly struggled with this decision, because Robin Kelly is a former employee of mine and a friend," Preckwinkle said in an announcement at the Palmer House Hilton downtown. "I had a difficult decision to make and I made it. I'm supporting Toi because I think she's the best and strongest candidate."
Preckwinkle said she jumped into the race because "several polls" have show Halvorson with a "tenuous lead." She called Halvorson "the most conservative candidate running" in the Feb. 26 Democratic primary and insisted Halvorson was leading on name recognition as a former member of Congress representing the 11th Congressional District before recent remapping.
Halvorson's campaign declined to comment on the endorsement.
Kelly's campaign, however, lashed back on its chosen issue of gun control.
"President Preckwinkle might be able to look past Sen. Hutchinson’s A rating from the NRA, but the voters in the 2nd District won’t," said Kelly spokesman Jonathan Blair. "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 south suburbs.
Preckwinkle cited Hutchinson's ongoing sponsorship of bills to ban assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines in the General Assembly.
"I know she will stand up against gun violence, and I will vocally defend her against attacks from opponents should this issue arise," Preckwinkle said.
Yet, asked to explain her 92 percent approval rating from the National Rifle Association last year, Hutchinson replied, "I have always said that our approach to solving gun violence is going to be comprehensive and complex." She then went into the larger social issues behind gun violence, such as education, economics and unemployment.
Earlier in the day, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina on the South Side, said Hutchinson's high marks with the NRA "disqualified" her to represent the 2nd District.
"A refreshing brand of straight talk is what I'm hoping to be able to bring to Congress," Hutchinson said. "With President Preckwinkle at my side, I've never felt better about my chances to win this election."