Race to Fill Jackson’s Seat Highlights New Challenges for the Black Caucus

Cameron Joseph, The Hill, December 20, 2012

The race to replace former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) is throwing a spotlight on new electoral challenges facing the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

The Illinois race is the first real test of whether open-seat elections in expanded, more diverse districts are still likely to elect African-Americans to Congress.

Because of dwindling urban populations, less segregated neighborhoods and a fast-growing Hispanic population, many districts where African-American politicians have been all but guaranteed a win are no longer as secure.

The CBC ranks will hold steady in 2012 at 42 members, and they will grow if Jackson’s replacement is black.

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But one prominent CBC member is likely to get involved. A spokesman for Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) indicated he’s likely to endorse one of the African-American candidates in the Democratic primary.

“The congressman is concerned about the community being able to have a real choice in who would best represent them in the tradition of the representation they’ve had over these past years,” Ira Cohen, a spokesman for Davis, told The Hill. “He is looking at who is interested in running and will make a decision at some point about a candidate that he feels is consistent with that kind of representation.”

Jackson’s old district, like many heavily African-American districts, was expanded during the redistricting process into the suburbs and took in more white voters.

The seat is expected to remain in Democratic hands—Jackson won reelection in November by a wide margin, despite not campaigning.

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Jackson easily dispatched white former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.) in the 2012 primary. She’s running again—and a crowded Democratic field is boosting her chances at returning to Congress.

Halvorson took less than a third of the vote against Jackson in 2012. But in a late-February primary where few are expected to vote, she has a better shot at turning out her suburban base and pulling off a win.

When asked whether she was worried about the city/suburban and racial divides in the race, Halvorson downplayed those concerns.

“We are focused on getting our message out to everyone in the special election,” she told The Hill via email.

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