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Candidates for Jackson seat vie for party backing

Associated Press
FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2012 file photo taken in Chicago, former Congressman Mel Reynolds announces that he's joining the increasingly crowded field running for the U.S. congressional seat vacated by Jesse Jackson. Jr. Reynolds is vying for an endorsement from Cook County Democratic Party officials during a slating meeting that will be held Saturday, Dec. 13, 2012 in  South Holland, ill. Reynolds is hoping for the party's endorsement that could be particularly valuable in the short campaign leading up to the February 26, 2012 Primary. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
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CHICAGO (AP) — More than a dozen Democratic candidates went before Chicago-area party officials Saturday to try to win their endorsement for former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s seat — and the campaign war chest that comes with such backing.

Among the candidates who could be chosen when Cook County Democratic officials cast their votes later Saturday are state Sen. Donne Trotter, who was recently arrested for carrying a gun into Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, and former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who lost a primary challenge to Jackson earlier this year.

When Trotter was interviewed Saturday, none of the committee members asked him about the gun charge.

"I guess that's their way of saying that this is not an issue and ... that they're more concerned about other things that directly affect the district," said veteran Democratic consultant Delmarie Cobb, who sat in on the sessions.

In a sign that he was in serious contention, Trotter's question and answer session lasted twice as long as others.

"It was also clear that he had the support," Cobb said. "I don't know that he has the majority support, but he certainly had the support."

She added that in her own view it would be better for the party to opt for an open primary rather than endorse a candidate facing a felony charge and risk embarrassment if his legal troubles worsen.

The 2nd Congressional District, mostly in Cook County, is heavily Democratic. With the primary set for Feb. 26 and the general election on April 6, candidates will need to pull together money and volunteers much quicker than usual — something with which the party can help.

But Don Rose, a longtime analyst of Chicago politics, said voters in the district haven't always supported the candidate backed by the party.

Each committee member's vote is weighted based on how many votes were cast in that person's ward or township in the last election. If no one wins the majority of the weighted votes, the party won't endorse anyone.

Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale, a candidate and voting ward committeeman, expects that to happen. Beale said of his own candidacy that he has broad support and "a base to build upon."

Jackson resigned from the U.S. House last month, weeks after easily winning re-election despite not campaigning beyond a robocall or being seen publicly in months. He took medical leave in June for treatment of bipolar disorder. His attorneys have also said they are cooperating with federal authorities on an investigation; they have not given details on what it involves.

Jackson's wife, Alderman Sandi Jackson, did not appear at Saturday's meeting and designated someone else to cast her vote.

Trotter said this week he has the support of the official whose vote carries the most weight — Thornton Township Democratic boss Frank Zuccarelli — and one other committee member.

Trotter was arrested Dec. 5 when Transportation Security Administration officers discovered an unloaded .25-caliber Beretta handgun and ammunition in a garment bag during routine X-ray screening.

Trotter's attorney says he has the gun for his separate work with a security firm and that he forgot it was in the bag.

Each candidate had five minutes Saturday to make a pitch and faced questions from committee members. Part of that process was open to the public. The committee was to go into closed session to discuss and cast their votes later in the afternoon.

Other candidates include state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, former state Rep. Robin Kelly and former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds, whose record includes convictions for fraud and having sex with a minor. Reynolds has said he believes voters will forgive his mistakes.

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