Congressman Danny K. Davis at his election night headquarters in Chicago on June 28. | Shanel Romain/Contributor

On Tuesday, Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th) emerged from a conference room inside of the National Association of Letter Carriers building in Chicago, where his election night party was taking place, with the face of an exhausted heavyweight champion fighter surprised that the match went so long.

About a half-hour earlier, the longtime congressman’s campaign party had been rather muted, with some staffers nervously whispering into cell phones and volunteers looking anxiously at a projector screen showing a local TV news anchor process election data.

When the Chicago Sun-Times projected a victory for the congressman — who as of 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday was leading his closest challenger, gun control advocate Kina Collins, 52% to 45% — the room of several dozen supporters exhaled and cheered before shouting, “Danny! Danny! Danny!”

Davis said Tuesday’s election was his narrowest margin of victory since he first ran for Congress nearly 30 years ago in 1996.

“I think the first race I ran, I got 32% of the vote, but of course it was five or six of us in that race,” he said.

Allen Evans, an activist with the Peacemaker Coalition, a group of community groups focusing on addressing violence in Austin, said he’s known Davis since he was a Chicago alderman and has volunteered on his campaigns since that first congressional race in 1996. Evans said he didn’t think this most recent election would be so close.

“Usually, young people don’t vote,” he said. “So, I thought the senior citizens would have brought him in. I thought there would have been a much greater gap.”

Chicago Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin said she was confident that Davis would win, but added that the low voter turnout affected his margin of victory.

“It was just a very low turnout today and just about every race has been affected, because of that,” she said. “Because Congressman Davis is such a household name, he’s going to be fine, but this low voter turnout was tough.”

In addition to Collins, Davis faced a challenge from Denarvis Mendenhall, an Air Force veteran and compliance officer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Mendenhall had garnered about 2% of the vote, as of midnight Tuesday.

Collins, who also ran for the 7th District congressional seat in 2020, was backed by a range of national organizations, including Indivisible, Justice Democrats and the National Organization for Women.

Davis secured endorsements from national politicians including President Joe Biden and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but Collins outspent him by nearly $140,000, according to campaign finance data from the Federal Elections Commission.

As with her campaign message last year, Collins ran as a fresh, more progressive alternative to the veteran Davis.

Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins, a Davis supporter who was at the congressman’s election night party, said he was discouraged about the response of some constituents to Davis’s campaign.

“A lot of people in Forest Park, they don’t say anything about Nancy Pelosi being in seniority,” he said. “She’s the congressman’s age and she’s been in Congress longer, but they want Davis to go.

“I took a friend of mine from Forest Park who supported Kina Collins to see Nancy Pelosi, when she came to see the congressman months ago. And this woman was very happy to see Nancy Pelosi, but her comment was, ‘I’m surprised she doesn’t have anything better to do than be here.’”

Tumia Rumero, Congressman Davis’s chief of staff said she wasn’t surprised that the election was so close, given the low turnout. She said internal polling had the congressman besting Collins by 20%, “but that was based on a higher turnout.”

She added that the low turnout may have been due, in part, to state officials pushing the election date back from March 15 to June 28.

“People thought that maybe they had already had the primary,” Rumero said.

In his remarks to supporters, Davis said he looks forward to helping Democrats stave off Republicans in the November midterm elections and is focusing on the Jan. 6 Commission investigation and the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, among other issues.

“It’s been a hard fight, but the victory is sweet,” he said.