WASHINGTON – Former Clinton aide Rahm Emanuel is in a dead-heat race for the Democratic nod in Tuesday's 5th Congressional District primary in Illinois.
A veteran of the "war room" — where Clinton staffers discussed strategy and spin control — Emanuel, 42, faces primary challenges from former state Rep. Nancy Kaszak and another Clinton ally, Peter Dagher.
The latest poll by Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV shows one in four voters still undecided, and Emanuel winning 35 percent to Kaszak’s 33 percent.
"I feel very good about our chances," said Emanuel, a Chicago native who has been accused of being a millionaire carpetbagger by Kaszak. "I feel very good about the response I’m getting from voters in the district."
"It’s a surprisingly divisive race," said Wayne Steger, a political science professor at DePaul University. "Rahm had a substantial money advantage early on and looked like he was going to walk away with it. But Nancy Kaszak has really come on strong."
To bolster his chances in Tuesday's primary, Emanuel, now a Chicago-based investment banker, has thrown in $450,000 of his own cash. As of this week, he and Kaszak, 51, will have spent $3 million. Emanuel, has spent $1.2 million, and has had heavy backing from Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Kaszak, however, has her own big backers, and has received an additional $500,000 in television attack ads from Emily’s List, a pro-choice national Democratic women’s group that has thrown its weight behind Kaszak.
The race has gotten as ugly as it has become expensive. One of Kaszak's strongest supporters in the Polish community erroneously said Emanuel held dual citizenship in Israel and served in the Israeli military.
Emanuel, who is Jewish and grew up the son of a doctor in Israel, has accused Kaszak of being soft on crime, prompting her to characterize the claim as sexist. She insists he is out of touch with the blue collar North Side, and pounds him on his role in supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement, which she said has been a drain on union jobs.
Much of Chicago's North Side is comprised of working class, Polish, Ukrainian, and Italian neighborhoods. The district, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, also includes the affluent Lakeside community.
Both Emanuel and Dagher have hardly mentioned their ex-boss, former President Bill Clinton, though Emanuel has openly embraced Clinton’s legacy and touts his work in the White House.
Emanuel was a dogged fundraiser for Clinton and worked mostly on health insurance, welfare reform and strengthening gun laws. Under the Clinton administration, he worked at the Transportation Department and the Democratic National Committee, before becoming a senior adviser to the president.
Emanuel and Dagher are among a field of former Clinton administration veterans running in the 2002 elections. Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff, is running in the Democratic Senate primary in North Carolina; former Attorney General Janet Reno is seeking to oust Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush; and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich is looking to unseat Gov. Jane Swift in Massachusetts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.