Down to the wire in Chicago mayoral race with Rahm Emanuel leading

Former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel leads handily in the polls. Tuesday's election will tell whether he has the majority necessary to avoid a runoff election in April.

By , Staff writer

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    Chicago mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel shakes hands with the Rev. Jesse Jackson while lunching at Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles Feb. 21, in Chicago. Six candidates are on Tuesday's ballot to replace the retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley, who didn't seek a seventh term. The other candidates are looking to force a runoff with the former White House chief of staff, whom polls show is the frontrunner.
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The leading candidates to succeed Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley spent Sunday in a place where uplift could help their poll standings: church.

Speaking from pulpits throughout Chicago, the mayoral hopefuls spoke of strengthening families by encouraging participation at school desks and church pews throughout Chicago neighborhoods. On the eve of Tuesday’s election, the gentle sermonizing was less political and had a tone of community unity.

As evidenced in many of the candidates’ messages these recent weeks, however, many of their prayers are heavenward petitions for a runoff, which would extend the election by six weeks to April 5.

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Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel leads each poll.

His highest rating was 49 percent, according to the Chicago Tribune earlier this month, more than twice that of former Chicago School Board of Education president Gery Chico, his nearest competitor in the polling.

Yet his competitors are encouraged by the fact that Mr. Emanuel has not achieved a majority in the polling, and they say extending the election will force Emanuel to answer questions about his background and proposals they say he has evaded to date.

“We need a runoff to keep talking about the issues Chicagoans care about,” Miguel del Valle said Monday.

Emanuel acknowledged Sunday that a runoff is a possibility.

“It may take one or two bites at the apple,” he said. “But my goal here is not to measure that. It’s to measure and make sure that people know my position on the issues.”

Emanuel is unlike any candidate for office in Chicago in recent history due to his national credentials working for two US presidents as a policy adviser and fundraiser and for his immense campaign fund, totaling $8.3 million, making his the richest in the state.

His connections are wide and diverse, spanning the entertainment world in Los Angeles and the banking sector in New York City.

Many here also see him entrenched with Mayor Daley, despite the fact that the incumbent mayor has yet to give Emanuel an official endorsement. To them, news that William Daley, the mayor’s brother, was named as Emanuel’s replacement in the White House suggested a deal was in the making as soon as Emanuel declared his candidacy.

For all these reasons, he was the focus of this election cycle the moment he came back to Chicago from Washington in October.

A movement to remove his name from the ballot due to questions regarding his residency was shot down by the Illinois Supreme Court in January.

Since then, Emanuel’s opponents have tried to point anger over the banking crisis his way, saying his 2000-2001 stint as a board member of Freddie Mac, the federal mortgage firm, meant he must have been aware of the company’s wrongdoing when it misreported its total earnings by $5 billion.

Emanuel has not hesitated to tap his White House connections either.

Former President Bill Clinton appeared at a fundraising rally in January, footage of which later appeared in television spots for the candidate. Several of Emanuel’s former White House staffers, including Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco and Stephanie Cutter, a top aide to senior adviser David Plouffe, came to Chicago to work for his campaign.

But what is making the opposition angriest is what they perceive as President Obama’s stealth endorsement of Emanuel.

Emanuel in recent weeks has used footage of Mr. Obama praising the candidate during his White House farewell ceremony. The remaining candidates say Obama supported their campaigns in the past when in Chicago, and some debuted video in an effort to debunk, or at least counter, Emanuel’s own.

For instance, Obama supported former US Sen. Carol Moseley Braun as he sought her endorsement for his US Senate campaign. Del Valle, a former Illinois state senator, often co-sponsored legislation with Obama.

Obama has not formally endorsed a candidate in the race. When asked last week in a press conference if he was working to support Emanuel, Obama said he didn’t “have to make calls for Rahm Emanuel. He seems to be doing just fine on his own.”

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