After months of speculation, State Sen. Napoleon Harris, a former professional football player turned Illinois lawmaker, announced his official run for U.S. Senate on Tuesday.
Harris, of Flossmoor, will challenge Rep. Tammy Duckworth (8th District) and former Urban League President and CEO Andrea Zopp for a spot on the Democratic ticket. Whoever wins the spring primary will then face off against Sen. Mark Kirk.
After making the announcement at Thornton Township High School, his alma mater, Harris was questioned about his stance on several issues, including foreign policy.
"We've seen firsthand how terrorism has affected our country, with the acts of 9/11 and others. It's time to make a stand, come together," Harris said.
Harris appeared ill-prepared on some foreign policy issues, however, when he said he would not comment directly on Rauner's statement about suspending acceptance of Syrian refugees because he had not heard about his decision to close the borders.
Although he waited several months to make a formal announcement about his run for Senate, Harris has lined up key supporters, including committeeman Frank Zuccarelli, State Sen. Martin Sandoval and Senate President John Cullerton, who shared words of support at Thornton Township High School.
"I think we're seeing in the Republican primaries that many voters are attracted to celebrities," Cullerton said. "There's nothing wrong with that and Napoleon is a celebrity, but he's a celebrity with substance. He's a celebrity with a background, a business background, and someone who did actually run for office and get elected."
Harris and Zopp, one of his primary opponents, will likely be competing for the same African-American voters, but Harris said he has more of a base than Zopp, who is lesser known outside of Chicago. Sandoval said Harris also brings more experience to the Senate than Zopp, who says she welcomes Harris to the race and is proud of her 100 endorsements.
Of the three in the Democratic primary, Duckworth is considered the frontrunner of the race.
A former NFL player for the Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs, Harris now serves as state senator for Illinois' 15th District representing parts of Cook and Will counties, including the 9th Ward in Chicago.