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Jackson, Halvorson argue over who's more pro-Obama

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Former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson at a press conference Tuesday. (WBEZ/Sam Hudzik)

Updated at 12:05 p.m. on March 1, 2012.

Illinois U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., and his Democratic opponent are arguing over who was a more reliable vote in Congress for President Obama. The very existence of the debate was a positive development for Jackson, who’s had difficulty moving the election conversation beyond the topic of ethics.

Jackson’s campaign in recent days has pushed the theme “88 times” - the number of votes Jackson said his opponent, former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, cast against the wishes of the president during her single term in Congress, from 2009 to 2011. The theme is central to a radio ad featuring U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters and Corrine Brown.

“Halvorson voted with the Republicans and against President Obama 88 times,” Waters, of California, said in the ad.

“She voted 88 times with the Republicans and 88 times against President Barack Obama? She’s crazy!” Brown, of Florida, is heard saying emphatically.

Halvorson response, Jackson re-response

In a press conference she called Tuesday to denounce the vote claim, Halvorson pointed to a handful of times she voted with President Obama, when Jackson did not.

Halvorson also explained that for a lot of the 88 votes in question, the president never stated an opinion. But she acknowledged sometimes siding against the majority of Democrats.

“Does that automatically mean it’s against the...president? No,” Halvorson said. “That means that sometimes we have to cross the aisle and take a look at how it is to move this country forward.”

“Democrats should stick together,” responded Jackson campaign spokesperson Kevin Lampe. "[Halvorson] is running for the Democratic nomination. She should vote with the Democrats when she’s in Congress.”

Dividing voters?

Also Tuesday, Halvorson said she believed Jackson was trying to “divide [voters] racially” by using the radio ad, even as she acknowledged not hearing it herself. Halvorson said she’d been told it contained “rap music in the background” and was running on two stations geared toward African-American audiences.

The Jackson campaign distributed a radio ad to reporters it said had to be the one Halvorson was referring to, as it was the campaign’s only ad making the “88 times” claim. That ad contained no rap music.

The newly drawn Second Congressional District, which stretches from Chicago’s South Side down to Kankakee, is 54 percent African-American, according to Census demographics released by the Illinois General Assembly.

Endorsement bashing

The president has endorsed Jackson in the race. Still, as Halvorson pointed out, the president himself hasn’t said the words publicly, instead relying on aides to confirm his support for the congressman.

Meanwhile, Halvorson responded to the Chicago Tribune‘s endorsement of the incumbent. While noting ethical questions surrounding Jackson that’ve led to a continued U.S. House probe, the paper’s editorial board wrote last week that the congressman “ran circles around Halvorson in our interview, showing a 16-year incumbent’s command of the issues.”

Conversely, the Tribune wrote that Halvorson “is alarmingly unqualified to represent the district.”

“I’ve never had a very good relationship with the Tribune,” Halvorson said Tuesday, before implying the paper had a financial stake in a Jackson victory. “If you’re going to sell newspapers, who would you rather cover? Someone who’s on the front page or someone who just works hard and creates jobs. And my stories end up...on page 10.”

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