If I’m Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and I’m thinking about my re-elections chances this morning, I’d only have one thought in mind:
Take your time, challengers. Take your time.
There’s no doubt Mr. Emanuel needs to find some kind of silver lining concerning his re-election chances today. Two separate polls, one in the Chicago Sun-Times and one in Crain’s Chicago Business, show Rahm as very beatable by more than one challenger.
Among the big names listed in the polls as giving the mayor a run for his money are Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
And not only do these polls show Rahm could be beaten, but perhaps be beaten handily in a head-to-head matchup. The Sun-Times poll, for example found CTU president Lewis out ahead of Rahm 45 percent to 36 percent, and Preckwinkle beating Emanuel a whopping 55 percent to 31 percent.
The Crain’s poll found Precwinkle beating Emanuel by a 48 percent to 40 percent margin.
There is little doubt the mayor is intensely disliked by large segments of Chicago’s population. Whether it’s blacks and Hispanics to firefighters, teachers, unions, pension recipients, book lovers—you name it, at this point, the Mayor’s probably pissed them off or someone they know for one reason or another.
At this point, common wisdom says the only ones still in Rahm’s corner are downtown financiers and wealthy, usually white voters living in the city’s more affluent neighborhoods. Which is hardly a large enough voter base to win an election.
Which is all good for anyone who wants to see a new name on the fifth floor of City Hall. But there’s one little problem that usually gets lost in these discussions: with the election little more than seven months away, time is getting short for someone to get serious about running.
I know, I know. People like to think that all it’s going to take to beat Rahm is for the right person to get into the race, and Chicagoans will wake up, realize they don't have to live in Rahm’s shadow anymore, and vote him out of office.
But the truth is, things don't work like that in Chicago politics. Rahm Emanuel is a serious foe for anyone wishing to unseat him, and a poll or two saying people might vote for an opponent isn't enough to actually win.
What’s needed is a committed, effective campaign that’s well-funded, has a powerful story to tell, demonstrates the competence necessary to run a global city, connects with voters and gets them out to the polls in large enough numbers on Election Day to win.
While all of this may seem obvious, the harsh reality, as far as I can see, is that such a campaign does not exist in Chicago right now. Nor does one look like one is being built.
There’s little doubt that as head of the teachers union, Karen Lewis commands one of the most powerful and effective political organizations in the city. But up until now, it’s focus has been more on mobilization and advocacy built around education issues, not running a complex mayoral campaign.
At the same time, Preckwinkle has deep political connections and serious name recognition. But her fundraising looks anemic, and peeling off necessary political support from incumbent aldermen and other politicians inclined to support Emanuel would seem to be a full-time and multi-year effort.
That’s not to say either candidate couldn't—or wouldn’t—win. In fact, just like the polls show, both look to have an excellent chance at victory.
Nevertheless, Emanuel has $7 million in his campaign war chest, is likely to have millions more, and has already created another super Pac to support him. And he has a whole lot of influential local politicians and community leaders ready to support him lest they be locked out of any future spoils of a second Emanuel term.
The very first thing I wrote for Ward Room back in September of 2013 called for a mayoral challenger to step up and formally throw his or her hat into the ring. I thought, given the significant challenges someone faced in unseating Rahm, it was already getting late then. I think the same holds even more true today.
After all, every day without a credible campaign to beat the current mayor is another day lost that could have been spent telling the story of what’s gone wrong in Chicago, connecting with voters, building an effective get out the vote campaign and proving there’s a candidate serious about taking the city in a new direction.
Every day that passes without that campaign makes Rahm’s reelection maybe that much easier to pull off.
So far, all we’ve got is a bunch of polls, speculation about some candidates who seem to only be thinking about whether to run or not and some wishful thinking about what might happen come Election Day.
Karen Lewis. Toni Preckwinkle. Bob Fioretti. Someone else.
Time’s a-wasting. You can’t beat a powerful incumbent on good poll numbers alone.