Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is about to find out just how much a last-minute helping hand from President Barack Obama is worth in the city they both call home.
Windy City voters head to the polls Tuesday in an election where Emanuel, who was Obama’s first White House chief of staff, will try to win a second term – but could have a hard time clearing the 50%-plus-one vote requirement to avoid an April runoff.
The election comes just five days after Obama visited Chicago to announce a new national park in the city – an event that looked more like a campaign rally.
The campaign could test some key issues for Democrats – income inequality, tough budgeting education reforms among them – headed into the 2016 presidential campaign.
As the campaign wound into its final days, Emanuel courted African-American voters. His final campaign ad features a newspaper endorsement by the primarily black Chicago Defender, and highlights Obama’s support.
Obama’s visit, meanwhile, drew national attention to Emanuel’s re-election bid.
“Before Rahm was a big-shot mayor, he was an essential part of my team at the White House during some very hard times for America and I relied on his judgment every day, and his smarts every day, and his toughness every day,” Obama said on Thursday, as he designated the Historic Pullman District a national monument.
There’s no doubt Emanuel is the heavy favorite, and he appears within striking distance of reaching the majority he’ll need to avoid a runoff. The latest Chicago Tribune poll last week found him with 45% support, while about 20% of likely voters still haven’t made up their minds.
Emanuel’s top challenger is Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Cook County commissioner who has taken up the progressive mantle of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and others who have harped on issues like income inequality – breaking ranks with some of their fellow Democrats along the way.
Emanuel has faced the toughest criticism from the Chicago Teachers Union, which backed Garcia because of Emanuel’s decision to close almost 50 of the city’s schools. He’s also angered liberals over his tough budgeting.
The campaigns had spread across the city as candidates made their final pushes. The Chicago Tribune reported that Emanuel spent Monday meeting with senior citizens on the city’s north side. Garcia, meanwhile, started his day with a meeting with transit union members.
Chicago’s pulls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. central time on Tuesday.