Sweet: Democrats Zopp and Duckworth making moves in Senate race

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WASHINGTON — Democratic Illinois Senate hopeful Andrea Zopp’s campaign showcased more key backers on Tuesday as Rep. Tammy Duckworth unveiled a criminal justice proposal that may be useful in cutting into Zopp’s African-American base.

Let’s catch up with the Democratic rivals who are competing to take on Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.:


Zopp has two political bases: African-American voters and her South Side Beverly community. She needs massive African-American turnout from the Democratic-vote rich Chicago area to even have a chance to beat front-runner Duckworth.

“We need a great showing in the African-American community and we expect to earn it,” her campaign manager, Bryce Colquitt told me.

Towards that end, on Tuesday the Zopp team highlighted the backing of 18 Chicago aldermen — many who represent African-American wards — plus state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, and former state Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago. She also has the support of her home alderman, Matt O’Shea (19th).


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Wednesday marks the end of the third fundraising quarter, and Zopp’s numbers will be scrutinized to see if she has staying power against Duckworth, who has held a big campaign cash advantage.

Zopp’s backers include folks with the ability to raise a lot of money: John Rogers, Mellody Hobson, Bettylu Saltzman, Elzie Higginbottom, Jim Reynolds, Desiree Rogers, Linda Johnson Rice plus Michael and Cari Sacks.

“We are building Andy’s political base,” Colquitt said. Zopp, after a slow start, finally has hired people for the top spots in her campaign.


Duckworth has dug into and is identified with many issues — especially veterans affairs, curbing the ability of predatory lenders to exploit soldiers and many other military-related matters.

She has not been associated strongly with criminal justice legislation.

Until now.

On Tuesday, Duckworth opened a new front when she unveiled a criminal justice proposals, coming as the Obama White House and Justice Department have been looking at reforms in the wake of Ferguson, Missouri, and other cities where black communities have exploded in the wake of incidents with white police.

Duckworth wants to give federal judges more discretion in sentencing, make it easier for ex-cons to get hired with a “ban the box” law and get federal funding so more police can wear body cameras. Police videos have proved crucial in showing abuse by officers

I see this foray into criminal justice — whether intended or not — as having the practical political impact of laying the groundwork for Duckworth to have a story to tell to boost her appeal to black voters.

I can’t emphasize enough that the key to Zopp’s electoral viability in the March primary is a massive turnout by African-American precincts.

And just to show how the Kirk campaign is keeping an eye on the Democrats, I got an email and call from Kirk campaign manager Kevin Artl after Duckworth’s team posted her criminal justice proposals; the release said she was a co-sponsor on two bills.

“We found a few items that raised questions,” Artl said, noting that Duckworth’s name could not be found on the co-sponsor list.

Matt McGrath, who has been acting as Duckworth’s political spokesman — even as he is on the payroll of the officially neutral Democratic Party of Illinois — sent over a press release showing Duckworth’s intention back in July to be a co-sponsor of the “Safe, Accountable, Fair, Effective Justice Reinvestment Act.” Sometimes there are glitches in paperwork.

As for the claim that Duckworth is a co-sponsor of the “Fire Sale Loophole Closing Act” — well, she sent the paperwork to be a co-sponsor just this week.

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @LynnSweet

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