Once you become Chicago's mayor — or one of its alderman, for that matter — getting reelected is ordinarily a fairly easy proposition.
The scheduling of Election Day, the fourth Tuesday in February in an off year, is deliberately designed to generate a low-turnout result. Incumbents' well-oiled political machines turn out their old reliable voters, while to have any kind of chance, challengers have to motivate people who ordinarily vote once every two or four years to show up at the polls. Thus, the fact the President Obama-endorsed incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel couldn't seal the deal on Tuesday is utterly astonishing.
Emanuel, at 45.4 percent, became the first mayor in the Windy City to fall short of winning the majority needed to avoid an April runoff since it went to "nonpartisan" elections in 1999. Emanuel will face Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who came out of nowhere to win 33.8 percent of the vote. That result is even more stunning, because a) Emanuel underperformed preelection poll predictions that he might squeak by, and b) he did so despite President Obama's outspoken endorsement of his former White House chief of staff.
The question I haven't seen anyone in the press dare to ask — and which they certainly should be asking — is whether Emanuel underperformed because of Obama's late-January endorsement and his stumping for the incumbent mayor during the campaign's final week. Here is some of the Chicago Tribune's coverage of that endorsement (bolds are mine throughout this post):
Obama in new ad for mayor: Emanuel's 'hardheaded' but 'he loves our city'
President Barack Obama endorsed Mayor Rahm Emanuel for re-election in a radio ad that began airing Monday in Chicago, laughing off Emanuel's "hardheaded" demeanor as proof of his passion and speaking in favor of the mayor's school policies that have become key points of controversy in the election campaign.
"If you want a mayor who does what's right, not just what's popular, who fights night and day for the city we love, then I hope you'll join me. Vote for Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday, February 24th," Obama says in the 60-second spot.
... Emanuel's challengers on Monday said an Obama endorsement won't carry him to victory.
It looks like those challengers were right.
If a Republican or conservative president had injected himself into a major political race such as this and his endorsed candidate, especially an incumbent, had failed, we'd be hearing quite a bit about how his or her political power isn't as strong as once thought.
Here's a bit of an election preview from the Chicago Sun-Times indicating the Emanuel is in for a knock-down, drag-out fight:
Analysis: Runoff election is 'still Rahm's to lose' — and still a huge embarrassment
Being forced into a runoff against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia after outspending Garcia by a nearly 12-to-1 margin is a huge national embarrassment for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
It means an exhausting six-week campaign that’s likely to force the nation’s best-known big city mayor to go back to his deep-pockets donors for another $5 million.
It also means that Garcia, who raised just $1.3 million to Emanuel’s $15 million, is likely to have an easier time matching the mayor’s Round 2 spending or at least coming close.
... Twenty-four times since 2003, incumbent aldermen have been forced into run-offs. Twelve times, the incumbent lost. Never before since Chicago made the switch to non-partisan elections in 1999 has there been a citywide run-off.
... Garcia’s campaign manager Andrew Sharp is relishing the opportunity to make history.
“Emanuel’s challenge is much more daunting than ours. He has to go back to voters who affirmatively took an action to remove him from office and say, `I really deserve another chance,’” Sharp said.
“If the president of the United States and all of your Hollywood and hedge fund money can’t get you over 50 percent, how are you gonna do that in a runoff when the majority of the city has already voted against you? That’s what we look at as our fundamental strategic advantage.”
Sharp argued that the electorate fundamentally changes in a run-off because there are “a lot more people interested in the playoffs than there are in the regular season.” That means turnout should be substantially higher.
Bingo — and the incumbent loses much of the built-in advantage described earlier.
The Associated Press's post-election coverage treats the President's endorsement as a presumptive advantage in the runoff. On what basis? Chicago is, for better or worse, a far-left city, and, as the Politico has reported, "progressive groups are trying to elevate García into their latest hero, in the ranks of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio."
Here are a couple of interesting exit questions the national establishment press won't dare ask: Will Obama lay low this time around? And will it be because Emanuel begged him to keep his distance?
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.