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Why Obama jumped into Illinois race: Picked Stratton over Dunkin

President Obama has recorded a radio ad and narrates a TV spot for Juliana Stratton in her Illinois House race against incumbent Ken Dunkin. | Screenshot

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama took the unusual step of endorsing Juliana Stratton over incumbent Ken Dunkin for an Illinois House seat in part because of her support for gun-safety measures, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday.

Obama recorded two endorsement spots for Stratton – on radio, one TV – weighing in on one of the biggest state House races in Illinois, a proxy war between GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

Dunkin is fighting for his seat because he sided with Rauner on critical votes, denying Madigan the supermajority needed to override a Rauner veto. In return, Dunkin’s campaign is bankrolled by Republicans and pro-Rauner Democrats.

The White House was also aware of a radio ad using a snippet from Obama’s Feb. 10 speech to the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield, a spot designed to leave the impression the president is for him.

Earnest was asked about the rare presidential primary endorsements in Illinois and in a few other contests. Obama is backing Ted Strickland for Senate in Ohio and Patrick Murphy for a Florida Senate seat. Obama has not taken sides in the Illinois Democratic Senate primary, where Tammy Duckworth is the front-runner over Andrea Zopp and Napoleon Harris.

Earnest said in reply, “Well, each of them is a little bit different. I can take the Illinois one first.

“And it’s sort of relevant to the question that you asked me about the Ohio Senate race. One of the reasons that the president weighed in on the Illinois State House race is the incumbent Democrat was somebody who had not demonstrated a commitment to pursuing common-sense gun-safety legislation. And the president made a promise earlier this year that he would ensure that his name would not be associated with — and he certainly would not support or advocate for the election of Democrats who don’t support common-sense gun-safety legislation.

“And this is an example of the president following through. Now, what’s also true, and I’ll acknowledge this on the front end, is that we’re not going to scrub the records and the campaign statements of every single Democrat at every single level of the ballot all across the country. But obviously the president’s home state of Illinois is a place that he knows well, and he knows some of the individuals well. And so the president felt like it was an important race for him to weigh in on.

“As it relates to Mr. Murphy and Governor Strickland — Congressman Murphy and Governor Strickland, the president is interested in doing as much as he can to support Democrats in their effort to retake the majority in the United States Senate. And he certainly has put his endorsement alongside who he believes are the strongest candidates in those two key states.”

Obama, a former Illinois state senator, traveled to Springfield last month to deliver a speech about bridging partisan divides to a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly.

After Obama said that finding common ground doesn’t “make me a sellout to my own party,” Duncan jumped up to clap at the sellout line – as it it were for him.

“Well, we’ll talk later, Duncan,” Obama said, telling him to “sit down.”

A DNC source told me that part of the reason behind Obama’s making the spots for Stratton was “to set the record straight that the president has not endorsed Dunkin, he is endorsing the challenger.”

In the TV spot for Stratton Obama says, “The people of Chicago deserve leaders who follow through. Juliana Stratton has spent her career serving our community, improving the juvenile justice system and protecting public safety.”

“Juliana will fight to get guns off our streets and fight for tougher penalties for violent offenders. I’m Barack Obama. I’m asking you to vote for Democrat Juliana Stratton for state representative,” the president says in the TV ad. The president does not appear on camera himself.

@lynnsweet