With Tom Dart Out, Rahm Emanuel Is the Favorite in Chicago

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Rahm Emanuel's bid for mayor of Chicago received a sizable boost today when Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced he will not run for mayor in February.

Dart made the announcement at a press conference this morning in Chicago. From the Chicago Tribune's Clout Street blog:

Standing outside the jail he has overseen since 2007, Dart said he has struggled with the decision since Mayor Richard Daley announced last month that he would not seek another term.

"I couldn't do both," Dart said of running for mayor and being sheriff. "It wasn't the appropriate thing for me just to take my time."

"For supporters of mine, I was being less than honest," he said.

Like several other politicians, the Democratic sheriff has had to juggle that calculation with the need to run for re-election on the Nov. 2 ballot. Dart supporters were laying the groundwork for a mayoral bid and he was ratcheting up his public appearances in recent weeks to keep his name out there while more certain mayoral candidates gained the spotlight.

Chicago political strategists and academics had consistently seen Dart as the most formidable candidate in the race other than Emanuel. The observers I talked to in the week or so following Emanuel's announcement were less than certain that Emanuel would enter the race as a far-and-away frontrunner, though most assumed his fundraising skills and resume would make him the candidate to beat. Dart, in the eyes of one former alderman at least, actually had a better chance than Emanuel in this race, with support from key backers and constituencies across the city.

Now that Dart is out, Emanuel almost certainly rates as the favorite to become Chicago's next mayor.

The most formidable candidate Emanuel will have to compete with, based on the projections of said insiders, might be U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (who will probably have to deal with attacks over past real estate deals), 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti, or City Clerk Miguel Del Valle.

Observers think racial politics could play a big role in this election, so if a candidate can unite black or Latino voters, he/she could possibly win or at least influence the outcome.

The first leg of the election will be held on February 22, with a run-off between the top two vote getters held on April 5. Candidates will face their first formal test on November 22, when they'll have to gather 12,500 valid signatures to get on the ballot. As observers point out, each candidate will probably need at least 25,000 signatures in total, since many will inevitably be ruled invalid.

Scaring off competitors, observers agreed, would be a good first step in Emanuel's path to victory.

A big challenge for the former White House chief of staff, the theory went, would be to create an impression that he's a frontrunner, convincing other top candidates they'd be in for a tough race against him. If he got off to a solid start in raising money, generated positive media buzz, and was generally seen as the likely winner of the race, Emanuel could create an impression that beating him would be very difficult--perhaps leading some other top candidates to decide that it wasn't worth it to run.

With Dart's exit, Emanuel seems to have succeeded in doing so, and his status as frontrunner appears to be well cemented.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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