CHICAGO (CBS) — As expected, there is a very crowded field of candidates vying to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress. Seventeen Democrats and five Republicans met Monday evening’s deadline to file nominating petitions to run for the 2nd Congressional District seat in the upcoming special election.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports there were no surprises among the candidates, just a little suspense as former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson – considered a heavy favorite in the race – waited until less than an hour before the deadline to officially jump in.

Halvorson, who lost the Democratic primary in the 2nd District to Jackson last year, said her experience as a former member of Congress distinguishes her from the other 16 Democratic hopefuls.

“I believe, in the end, it’s going to be the person who has the most experience, the person who can deliver on day one, the person who has already been to Congress,” Halvorson said.

Halvorson might be the favorite, but she’s no shoe-in against a field which includes her former chief of staff, Toi Hutchinson, who succeeded her in the Illinois Senate.

“I’ve been protecting women and children, and safety issues since I walked in there,” Hutchinson said. “I’ve been working on making sure that we can incentivize businesses to grow and create jobs.”

Another likely top contender is Robin Kelly, a former state representative, former chief of staff in the Illinois Treasurer’s office, and a former top aide to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

“I look forward to working with the President to deal with issues of jobs, gun issues, infrastructure, transportation,” Kelly said.

What do these three frontrunners have in common? They are all suburban women, in a district which is 77 percent suburban, and where women are expected to cast 60 percent of the ballots in the special primary election.

That would seem to leave Chicago’s most prominent candidate, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who’s got both money and a track record, at a disadvantage.

Former Congressman Mel Reynolds and newly-elected State Sen. Napoleon Harris both have name recognition.

Reynolds, however, gained notoriety for the wrong reasons, as a convicted sex offender pardoned by President Bill Clinton.

Harris gained fame playing linebacker at Northwestern University, and then played for three different NFL teams, though he has nearly no political experience.

Halvorson’s campaign was already in high gear on Monday, after picking up where she left off in her primary loss to Jackson last year. She said her experience running against Jackson while he was in Congress gives her a big leg up on her rivals.

“Think about six full months of campaigning, and getting to know a lot of people,” Halvorson said.

She got 24,000 votes against Jackson, more than she’ll need this time with such a crowded field of candidates.

But Kelly said having so many opponents could work against Halvorson.

“I don’t think she can count on every single vote that she got a year ago, because there’s other choices,” Kelly said. “Some people that might have voted for her last time have other choices.”

There were also five Republicans who filed nominating petitions by Monday’s 5 p.m. deadline.

Among the key issues is the proposed assault weapons ban. Kelly plans to attack both Halvorson and Hutchinson for being supported by the National Rifle Association, though both candidates said they could support an assault weapons ban, under certain conditions.

The Democrats running for the seat include:
• Toi Hutchinson, of Olympia Fields;
• Debbie Halvorson, of Crete;
• Robin Kelly, of Matteson;
• Anthony Beale, of Chicago;
• Mel Reynolds, of Dolton;
• Napoleon Harris, of Flossmoor;
• Anthony Williams, of Dolton;
• Joyce Washington, of Chicago;
• Patrick O. Brutus, of Chicago;
• Ernest B. Fenton, of Markham;
• Fatimah N. Muhammad, of Chicago;
• Larry D. Pickens, of Chicago;
• Clifford J. Eagleton, of Harvey;
• Victor Jonathan (formerly known as Victor Onafuye), of Country Club Hills;
• Gregory Haynes, of Lynwood;
• Charles Rayburn, of Dolton;
• And John Blyth, of Chicago.

The Republicans running for the seat are:
• Lenny McAllister, of Maywood;
• Beverly E. Reid, of Chicago;
• Paul McKinley, of Chicago;
• James H. Taylor Sr., of Bradley;
• And Eric M. Wallace, of Flossmoor.

The primary for the special election has been scheduled for Feb. 26. The special election is set for April 9.

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