Rahm Emanuel has officially left the White House and entered the Chicago mayoral race, a move that was expected for nearly a month before it happened.
Emanuel is garnering more media attention than anyone else at this point, both on a national scale and in Chicago, and he's perceived by many to be the heaviest of heavyweights in a largely undefined field. Given that some of the strongest candidates have not officially announced they are running, Emanuel's official entry into the race could very well scare some of them off and narrow the field. Congressman Luis Gutierrez, for instance, could significantly impact the race by garnering a big chunk of the Hispanic vote, but will Emanuel's entry dissuade him from actually running? Attorney General Lisa Madigan would enter as a serious contender, but Rahm's presence makes her entry even less likely than it already was.
- A crowded field. There are more than 30 potential candidates in this race, ally vying for the same prize, complicating any run at key blocs of support. A handful of contenders have the chance to play significant roles in the contest.
- Racial politics. "This is an election that's obviously ripe for candidates from at least the two major minorities, the African American and Hispanic communities, and that's going to be an issue," said Prof. Alan Gitelson of Loyola University in Chicago. If Chicago's growing Hispanic community unites around a candidate (for instance Rep. Luis Gutierrez or City Clerk Miguel Del Valle), that could pose a challenge. Mitigating this factor: Mayor Daley succeeded in reaching out to African American and Hispanic communities during his tenure, so it's not as if minority communities will vote in discrete blocs, against a candidate favored by the Irish, Daley-machine political figures in the city.
- He's an outsider. Not really, but an outsider perception could weigh against Emanuel in this race. Not only is he a national political figure who has served in Washington, D.C. for years, most recently in the White House, but he
spent his time in Congress representing Evanston,comes from the upper-middle-class/wealthy suburbs on Chicago's North Side. You have to take the purple line to get there. It won't help Emanuel win votes from other areas in the city.
- Progressives will campaign against him. Liberals based in Washington, D.C. relish their bitter distaste for Rahm, and he can expect to see some opposition from national groups, basically out of spite. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee has already sent e-mails to its members opposing Rahm's mayoral bid, and PCCC leader Adam Green indicated that the group will seek to rally it's 20,000+ supporters in Illinois against Rahm. Progressives have been vague about whether they're actually willing to spend money to oppose him in his hometown. Some progressives in Chicago aren't too fond of him, either, and there's an "anybody but Rahm" sense among them, according to one Chicago strategist. The city's main progressive political institution, the Independent Voters of Illinois Independent Precinct Organization, may mobilize against him, and there are a few thousand Democracy for America members in the city who will likely oppose him as well. The question is whether they will pick a single candidate to support.
- He needs foot soldiers. Rahm doesn't enter this race with as solid a volunteer base as some of the candidates who have been living in Chicago and working, for months, to build support for their mayoral campaigns. This may not actually be a problem for Rahm, however. How will he get the foot soldiers he needs to turn out votes on election day? "He'll probably buy them," one observer remarked.
- Signatures. Rahm will need to accrue 12,500 valid signatures by November 22. Since many signatures will undoubtedly be ruled invalid, he'll need between 25,000 and 30,000 signatures total. It doesn't seem like this would be a problem for Emanuel in particular, but insiders I talked to acknowledged that signatures will be a challenge for every candidate. It also means Emanuel will need to activate a volunteer network quickly to get them all collected in the next month. Other candidates have been collecting signatures for some time; Emanuel hasn't.