WASHINGTON--State Sen. Toi Hutchinson will drop out of the Democratic primary to replace the scandalized Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and throw her support Sunday to former State Rep. Robin Kelly, I have confirmed.
Hutchinson's decision comes after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has emerged as the major player in the Illinois Democratic Second Congressional District primary with massive spending by his anti-gun PAC to bolster Kelly.
Bloomberg's Independence PAC USA so far has poured $1.4 million in the primary, started a massive TV buy for Kelly on Friday and was prepared, PAC spokesman Stefan Friedman told me Saturday, to surpass $2 million in spending.
Sources told me Saturday night Hutchinson, a state senator, will back Kelly, a former state representative. Kelly and Hutchinson shared a similar geographical and racial base of support--both African American females--and would have made it easier for their chief rival, former Rep. Debbi Halvorson -a white female--to win in what was shaping up as a three-way showdown.
Though the Democratic primary field is crowded, with a little more than a week left to the Feb. 26 primary, there are only four viable candidates, with Halvorson, Kelly and Hutchinson the top three contenders and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) a much longer shot.
Bloomberg's PAC jumped in the primary last month, focusing spending at first against former Halvorson, who had National Rifle Association backing when she ran and lost a re-election bid in 2010 to Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.)
On Friday, the PAC took sides, releasing an ad running on Chicago cable and broadcast television endorsing Kelly and explicitly against Halvorson and Hutchinson, her two main rivals.
According to Federal Election Commission records filed on Saturday, the Bloomberg's PAC most recent media buy in the race was for $730,335.95.
The billionaire New York mayor -- a Republican turned independent -- launched the PAC last year to oppose local, state and federal candidates against gun control measures, marriage equality and education reform -- and support their rivals.
Kelly seized on the gun issue early on, making it the defining issue of her campaign.
"Kelly will join President Obama to take on the NRA for effective background checks and to ban deadly assault weapons," a narrator says in the PAC ad.
The spot started running on Chicago broadcast and cable outlets on the day Obama was in Chicago, speaking at Hyde Park Academy, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., about violence in the city and his proposals to curb gun crime.
Friday was also the day federal prosecutors charged Jackson with siphoning campaign contributions for his personal use, and his wife, former Ald. Sandi Jackson, with filing false federal income-tax returns. Sandi Jackson -- who managed her husband's campaign -- resigned her 7th Ward aldermanic seat as the probe was closing in on her a few weeks ago.
Besides bankrolling paid TV advertising, the Bloomberg PAC is also spending for direct mail and internet advertising.
Other PACs are also spending to oppose Halvorson or boost Kelly, including the Service Employees International Union, Progressive Kick and CREDO.
The outside PACS are putting more money into the contest than all the Democratic contenders combined.
With time running out to make a difference, Mayor Rahm Emanuel so far hasn't announced his support for any candidate. It appears that Emanuel -- who has been taking a national profile on gun measures -- is staying on the sidelines at home because an alderman is in the contest.
One reason Bloomberg is playing so heavily in the primary -- anchored on the South Side and in the south suburbs -- is that winning the primary in the heavily Democratic 2nd congressional district faces is tantamount to clinching the seat in the March 19 general election. A plurality is needed to win--not a majority.
Jackson easily won re-election last November even though he never campaigned.
"Voters in Illinois' Second District want to elect a consistent champion who will go to Washington to stand up to the NRA and help pass the president's gun package -- that person is Robin Kelly," Friedman said.