Just last year, Rahm Emanuel was far, far from having the incumbent advantage.
A poll showed the Chicago mayor, who has the White House on his resume and more than a few prominent supporters, had the support of only 29 percent of registered voters.
The enthusiasm for Emanuel among minorities – who viewed the mayor, who infamously shut down several schools, provoked a teacher strike and whose policies generally were viewed as favoring the elite – was even more dismal. Back in May 2014, only 8 percent of blacks and 2 percent of Hispanics said they would vote for him at the time, said the City Journal.
What a difference nine months make.
Now, going into the primary next Tuesday, a poll by the Chicago Tribune shows that nearly half of the city’s voters would choose Emanuel, making him the one to beat. His standing among minorities has seen an even sharper climb, with 42 percent of blacks and 33 percent of Latinos backing him.
That boost came in great part from leaders in both the Latino and African American communities championing Emanuel as the best mayoral candidate, and from his multimillion-dollar ad campaign targeting minority voters, according to The Hill.
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a veteran of Chicago politics, has been carrying the Emanuel flag. Gutierrez, who did not back Emanuel four years ago, came around to embracing him after the mayor became a vocal supporter of providing a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, a key issue for the congressman.
“His opponents, while very outstanding citizens of the city of Chicago, have made a clear case, not a convincing one,” Gutierrez said to The Hill, “have clearly made a case about what they don’t like about Rahm Emanuel. But they have yet to propose what they would do differently.”
His most formidable challenger, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, doesn’t come close in the polls. He got 20 percent of the support among voters responding to the poll. Latinos, to be sure, prefer Garcia – 48 percent favor him. But only 18 percent of whites, and 13 percent of blacks, support Garcia.
“[Emanuel] has a message: ‘I’m making the tough decisions to move the city in the right direction,’” said Brooke Anderson, a Democratic strategist based in Chicago, to The Hill, “and from the president on down, he has every surrogate in the city out there using that message and smoothing out his rough edges for him.”
And having Gutierrez in his corner, as well as Rep. Bobby Rush, whose district is predominantly African-American, helps lend Emanuel credibility.
“The fact that Gutierrez is coming forward and saying, ‘This guy is on your side,’ that helps, because his primary opponent is a Mexican-American who also has a good record on this issue,” the Hill quoted Laura Washington of the University of Chicago as saying.
Garcia doesn't buy the whole Emanuel-turn-of-fortune story.
"He thought he would get his way coming from Washington and accustomed to that culture," Garcia, who has the backing of the Chicago Teachers Union, said to The Hill, "and he provoked the first teachers strike in 30 years. And he lost that fight having provoked that strike. It's really when the seeds of this anti-Rahm movement were sowed."
"I think these guys are spending too much time in D.C. and not Chicago neighborhoods," he said.