Jonathan Jackson, son of civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson, emerged at the top of a pack of contenders Tuesday night to nab the nomination to succeed U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush.
Jackson’s win over 16 other Democrats in the historic 1st Congressional District sets him up as the overwhelming favorite to continue nearly a century of Black representation in the seat that stretches from the South Loop deep into the south suburbs.
With 81% of precincts reporting, Jackson had 27.5% of the vote to 18.7% for Chicago Ald. Pat Dowell of the South Side, in unofficial totals.
In another closely watched primary fight in a heavily Democratic congressional seat, progressive state Rep. Delia Ramirez won handily over moderate Northwest Side Ald. Gilbert Villegas in the new Latino-leaning 3rd District that meanders from Chicago deep into DuPage County.
With 96% of precincts reporting, Ramirez had about 66% of the vote to 24% for Villegas, who said he called Ramirez to concede in the race.
Both Jackson and Ramirez were endorsed during their campaigns by progressive firebrand Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Ramirez also has long enjoyed the backing of progressive Southwest Side U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
Ramirez, 39, also had the Chicago Teachers Union backing.
Also Tuesday, veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. Danny Davis was trying to hold off young progressive challenger Kina Collins in the 7th District, which winds from the west suburbs through the West Side to the South Side.
With 87% of precincts reporting, Davis had 51.4% of the vote to 46.3% for Collins.
If Jackson holds on to win Tuesday and wins in November, he will follow his brother, Jesse Jackson Jr., to the House of Representatives.
Jesse Jackson Jr., represented the nearby 2nd Congressional District from 1995 to 2012 but resigned while he was under federal investigation for misusing campaign funds. He later pleaded guilty to wire and mail fraud and was released from prison in March 2015.
Jonathan Jackson enjoyed great name recognition in the district, which helped him in the crowded field.
On the campaign trail, Jackson argued he was best positioned to get things done for the district, pointing to his past work nationally and with members of Congress locally on voter registration drives and other programs through his father’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
In his speech declaring victory, Jackson promised to take the concerns of South Siders to Washington.
“I want you to know the South Side matters,” he said. “The South Side of Chicago is going with me. When I win, you win.”
Contests in the three heavily blue, Chicago-based districts — the 1st, 3rd and 7th — will go a long way toward shaping the state’s Democratic caucus in Washington for the next two years and likely much longer.
The 1st District features a changing of the guard as several well-known Democrats fronted a field of 17 primary candidates vying to succeed retiring Rush in the seat that has historic political significance to African Americans.
The 3rd District that rambles from the Northwest Side through DuPage County will elect a new member of the U.S. House as well.
All three seats were designed by Illinois Democrats to distinctly favor their party, meaning whoever wins the Tuesday primary will be heavily favored to beat the Republican candidate in the November general election.
1st Congressional District
The crowded 1st District Democratic field meant contenders were fighting for a relatively small piece of the election pie.
With the politically unassailable Rush stepping aside after three decades, a who’s who of South Side Democrats battled for the seat.
Dowell, the 3rd Ward alderman who pivoted from a run for secretary of state when Rush announced he wasn’t running, appeared to be the second highest vote-getter Tuesday in unofficial totals.
Other candidates included state Sen. Jacqueline Collins; business owner Jonathan Swain; activist Jahmal Cole, founder and CEO of My Block, My Hood, My City; Karin Norington-Reaves, head of federal workforce training for Chicago and suburban Cook County; and Nykea Pippion McGriff, a real estate agent and former president of the Chicago Association of Realtors.
As the Democratic nominee, Jackson will be well-positioned to continue a run of nearly a century of Black representatives from the 1st District beginning with Oscar DePriest, who in 1928 became the first Black person elected to Congress in the 20th century and the first ever in the North.
Just under half the district’s residents are Black, according to the Illinois Democratic Party.
Many of the candidates share similar views on issues like gun control, abortion rights, health care and the economy, so the challenge has been to separate themselves from the pack.
In the Republican primary, Eric Carlson appeared to be topping the three other candidates, Jeffery Regnier, Philanise White and Geno Young.
Carlson, 54, of Lemont, was convicted in 1995 of sexual assault and spent about six years in prison, records show. He will be considered a long shot in the November general election in the heavily Democratic district.
3rd Congressional District
In the Northwest Side 3rd District, the field was smaller and the differences between candidates were a bit better defined.
Villegas, who represents the 36th Ward on the Chicago City Council, is the moderate who touted his political pragmatism and ability to work with officials of differing views to get things done.
Ramirez pointed to her record in Springfield as evidence she can deliver, but she positioned herself as a more progressive candidate who worked on issues such as championing an elected Chicago school board.
The politics run the gamut in the new district, which Illinois Democrats drew to be a heavily Democratic, “lean Latino” congressional seat as the state recalibrates its district boundaries to acknowledge Latinos’ continued population gains in the state.
About 47% of the 3rd District’s nearly 754,000 residents are Hispanic, according to the Illinois Democratic Party.
On the eastern end are progressive Chicago neighborhoods such as Avondale and Logan Square. The boundaries then wind past traditionally more conservative Chicago neighborhoods like Dunning and into the suburbs.
Also in the 3rd is a big chunk of DuPage County, historically a Republican stronghold that has become more diverse and decidedly bluer in recent elections.
Along with Villegas and Ramirez, Democratic candidates on the ballot include college professor Iymen Chehade and registered nurse and Chicago cannabis entrepreneur Juan Aguirre.
Ramirez will take on Republican Justin Burau in the November general election.
7th Congressional District
The 7th District featured an old-fashioned head-to-head contest between two West Siders — one a liberal Congressional vet and the other a young progressive challenger — to represent a district that stretches from the west suburbs of Westchester, Bellwood and Oak Park through the city’s West Side and east to Lake Michigan, encompassing Streeterville and downtown, before bending south to take in parts of the South Loop, Bridgeport and Englewood.
Davis, 80, says his decades in Washington make him the obvious choice, arguing recently, “If anybody tells you that a rookie is as good as a great veteran, they must be out of their mind!”
Collins counters “it’s time for a change.”
Collins was endorsed by several progressive groups, including Justice Democrats, a leading left-wing political action committee that backed U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York in 2018.
Davis, meanwhile, works closely with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team.
And on Sunday, President Joe Biden announced he was endorsing Davis in the race. In a news release, Biden pointed to Davis’ work to bring infrastructure investments to the area, “to keep folks safe during the pandemic” and to protect civil rights.
Collins also challenged Davis in 2020, garnering about 14% of the vote in the Democratic primary among four candidates.
The Collins campaign gathered at Bottom Lounge, a West Loop bar and concert venue where she displayed a poster signed by the Strokes for a campaign gig they played in her honor. Collins spent parts of the day campaigning with left-wing allies such as aldermen Byron Sigcho-Lopez and Daniel La Spata, a move aimed at underscoring her progressive bona fides. Her campaign also displayed a banner highlighting one of her central themes of change: “You deserve better than business as usual.”
In a fiery speech, Collins said she wasn’t conceding defeat but would wait for all votes to be counted. Collins also criticized Democratic Party leadership for supporting Davis, who she has criticized as being out for himself, and highlighted problems facing the district, from food deserts to gun violence.
“If you have the power to call the Speaker of the House for an endorsement, and the mayor, and the governor, and the lieutenant governor and the president of the United States, fix what’s happening in our district!” Collins said. “Don’t call in (political favors) to get re-elected. Call in political favors that (improve) the lives of people in our district.”
Repeating a familiar campaign refrain, Collins said: “Congressman Danny Davis has been my representative since I was 5 years old. Enough is enough.”
Joining them on the 7th District Democratic ballot this year was Denarvis Mendenhall, who ran a very low-key campaign.
No Republicans ran in the 7th District primary.