Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is hoping the Illinois Supreme Court will hear an appeal of a lower court's ruling that he's ineligible to be mayor of Chicago, but with the verdict out on whether they will overturn it, a Rahm-less race seems possible.

Which begs the question: If Rahm were out of the race, who might win?

More likely than not, no single candidate would reach 50 percent of the total vote during the first round of balloting Feb. 22, meaning the top two vote-getters would advance to a runoff election April 5.

At the top of the field are former senator Carol Moseley Braun (D) and Chicago community colleges chief Gery Chico, an ally of Mayor Richard Daley.

Moseley Braun currently polls in second place with 21 percent support, while Chico polls in third with 16 percent, according to the latest Chicago Tribune/WGN poll, released last week. Emanuel ranked first with 44 percent. Miguel del Valle placed fourth with seven percent.

Chicago strategists, however, like Chico's chances better than Moseley Braun's.

"His phone must be ringing off the hook right now," said Chicago-based political consultant Ann Liston, of the firm Adelstein Liston. "Chico will raise significant funds during this time" before a potential resolution for Emanuel from the state Supreme Court, Liston said.

"If Rahm is not on, [Chico] would inherit the mantle, both good and bad, of where the Daley people would want to go," said Kitty Kurth, a political consultant with the Chicago firm Kurth Lampe. Kurth speculated that Chico would raise significant money from the business community in Emanuel's absence.

It's fitting that Moseley Braun and Chico, an African American and a Latino, would be the last candidates standing: From the beginning, strategists and longtime political observers in Chicago have stressed the influence of racial allegiances in this contest. The leanings of Black, Latino, and white voting coalitions have weighed heavily in their analyses. Some have guessed that, with a growing Latino population in Chicago, this election was ripe for a Latino candidate to win.

Some background on Moseley Braun and Chico: Moseley Braun was the first and only African American woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate, representing Illinois from 1993 to 1999, when she lost to Republican Peter Fitzgerald after one term. After that, she served as ambassador to New Zealand and ran for president in 2004. Moseley Braun entered this campaign with debt from her presidential run, as well as some political baggage: she had previously drawn criticism for meeting with Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha despite U.S. sanctions against him.

Chico, regarded as Daley's favorite in the race, is a lawyer who served as Daley's chief of staff from 1992 through 1995, when Daley appointed him president of the Chicago Public Schools Board. He lost to Barack Obama in the 2004 Democratic U.S. Senate primary. Chico now serves as chairman of the board of trustees of the City Colleges of Chicago.

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